LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian Jerry Lewis apologized on Tuesday for his use of an anti-gay slur during the weekend broadcast of his annual Labor Day Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
The controversial remark came Monday afternoon in the 18th hour of the live national telecast, when a visibly weary Lewis, 81, was joking on stage, pretending to introduce members of someone’s family as he mugged for the camera.
“Oh, your family has come to see you. You remember Bart, your oldest son, Jesse, the illiterate fag ...,” Lewis said, as he apparently caught himself and ceased the gag in mid-sentence, turning on his heel away from the camera.
A clip of the incident surfaced on a number of Internet sites on Tuesday, including TMZ.com, drawing a condemnation from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
“Jerry Lewis’ on-air use of this kind of anti-gay slur is simply unacceptable,” GLAAD President Neil Giuliano said in a statement, adding that the comic’s remark “feeds a climate of hatred and intolerance” that could incite anti-gay violence.
GLAAD urged Lewis to apologize for the comment and asked the entertainer to meet with members of the group “to help him understand why these words are so hurtful.”
Lewis issued a statement later in the day through organizers of the telethon saying he was sorry “to anyone who was offended.”
“I obviously made a bad choice of words. Everyone who knows me understands that I hold no prejudices in this regard,” he said. “The success of the (telethon) 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 21 1/2-hour telethon, broadcast Sunday night and Monday from the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa in Las Vegas, aired live on 190 stations in the United States and Canada. The 42nd annual event raised a record $63.7 million for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, according to the organization.
The comedian’s gaffe came months after actor Isaiah Washington was fired from the ABC hit medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” after reportedly making an anti-gay slur during an argument on the set of the show.
Lewis has caused stirs in the past with off-color remarks.
During an appearance at a comedy festival in 2000 he was asked who were his favorite female comedians.
“I don’t like any female comedians,” he responded, going on to say that seeing a woman doing comedy “sets me back a bit. ... I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies into the world.”