What do George Washington, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz all have in common? They have all been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their contributions to American society. And after raising a record breaking $61 million during his annual Labor Day telethon to battle muscular dystrophy earlier this week, actor-comedian Jerry Lewis looks like he may be next in line to receive the prestigious award.
Three senators introduced a resolution Wednesday to honor Lewis with the Congressional Gold Medal for his philanthropy and contribution to entertainment. The lawmakers sponsoring the resolution include Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both Democrats from New Jersey, and Republican Senator John Ensign, of Nevada. Lewis was born in Newark, New Jersey, but currently resides in the Las Vegas-area.
In the resolution Lautenberg said Lewis’ annual Labor Day telethon to aid both children and adults afflicted with neuro-muscular diseases has improved the lives of thousands of individuals. “This kind of commitment is what made America great, and it is why Jerry Lewis is a great American,” Lautenberg said. Menendez added that honoring Lewis with the medal “would be a fitting accolade to this larger than life individual.”
The 80-year-old film star who has recently suffered medical setbacks of his own has been the recipient of numerous awards for his philanthropy, though none of them were government sponsored. Lawmakers who support the resolution to honor Lewis cite the record amount of money his telethons have raised over the years. Since 1966 Lewis’ efforts have helped raise $1.4 billion to fight muscular dystrophy. Lautneberg also credits the actor for “putting a face to the disease that cripples thousands of people each year.”
To obtain the medal, congressional legislation is required, meaning the resolution needs the sponsorship of at least two-thirds of the House of Representatives and 67 senators in order to pass.