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Actor Jerry Lewis was awarded a very special humanitarian award at last night’s Oscars.

The 82-year-old actor received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his untiring work in hosting the annual telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) as an advocate of “Jerry’s Kids” – a role he has taken on every year since 1966.

“For most of my life I thought that doing good for someone didn’t mean you would receive commendation for that act of kindness,” Lewis said in his acceptance speech. “At least until now. This award touches my heart and the very depth of my soul because of who the award is from, and those who will benefit.”

The award – which in the past has been presented to Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Sherry Lansing, Quincy Jones, Bob Hope and many others – is named after screen actor Jean Hersholt, who served as the president of the Motion Picture Relief Fund for 18 years. The honor was a great thrill for the MDA, who are grateful for the support of Lewis.

MDA always has been immensely proud of its inspiring national chairman, who for more than five decades has personified the Association’s missions of help and hope. He is well deserving of this extraordinary honor,” said Gerald C. Weinberg, MDA president and CEO. “The impact of his humanitarian efforts on people with muscle-wasting diseases is beyond measure.”

The award is not the first honor for the comedy legend. He was presented the U.S. Defense Department’s highest civilian award, the Medal for Distinguished Service, in 1985. In 1996 the American Medical Association presented him and MDA Lifetime Achievement Awards “for significant and lasting contributions to health and welfare of humanity.” He is also one of an elite few to have been made a Commander in the French Legion of Honor. In 2007, Look To The Stars revealed that Lewis had topped a survey of the most effective celebrities for charity causes, with 43% of those surveyed saying he was the best at raising funds and driving change for the issues he supports.

“Jerry is well-known as the ‘face’ of the MDA Labor Day Telethon, which he has hosted without fail for 43 years and counting,” Weinberg said. “The Telethon is the most effective philanthropic event of its kind, so it’s appropriate that the man who makes it all possible has been singled out for his matchless compassion.”

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