Jerry Lewis Raises Millions, Causes Controversy

Lewis referred to someone by using a homophobic slur during his annual telethon.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 1:05 AM

Sept. 4, 2007 — -- While Jerry Lewis raised millions of dollars during his annual Labor Day telethon, he also caused a bit of controversy.

During the 18th hour of the telethon to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the 81-year-old actor, riffing in front of the camera very late in the broadcast, introduced an unseen person with a description that sounded like "the illiterate faggot."

In a video clip of the incident posted on the Internet, Lewis swaggers across the stage, appearing to dodge a cameraman before making the slightly muddled statement. He then seemingly catches himself and says, "No."

In an e-mail statement released by the Muscular Dystrophy Association Tuesday, Lewis apologized for the remark, saying it was a "joking comment" intended for a member of his production team.

"I apologize to anyone who was offended," Lewis said. "I obviously made a bad choice of words. Everyone who knows me understands that I hold no prejudices in this regard. In the family atmosphere of the telethon, I forget that not everyone knows me that well."

"That something like this would distract from the true purpose of the telethon pains me deeply," he continued. "The success of the show and all the good that will come from it shouldn't be lost because of one unfortunate word. I accept responsibility for what I said. There are no excuses. I am sorry."

The president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) issued a statement Tuesday criticizing Lewis' perceived use of the slur and calling on him to apologize.

"Jerry Lewis' on-air use of this kind of anti-gay slur is simply unacceptable," Neil G. Giuliano said. "Our nation's media have done an admirable job this year holding public figures accountable for their use of anti-gay slurs, and I hope they continue to do so with Mr. Lewis."

Lewis' televised slur comes after actor Isaiah Washington reportedly called his "Grey's Anatomy" co-star T.R. Knight a "faggot" earlier this year, causing a controversy that led to his removal from the ABC series.