But the story was bound to grow-- especially after those activists at the corporate porn-pushing gossip site TMZ.com inflamed the matter this morning by claiming he'd barked the word "faggot"-- while posting the video that proved he didn't!
Leave it to our pal Ray Richmond, the straight-shooting Hollywood Reporter star (who matter-of-factly-- and spectacularly-- announced his friend Merv Griffin's homosexuality-- then rebuked Jerry for his comments on Merv's death), to put the flap into context at his essential Past Deadline site, injecting some common sense before a well-meaning old man is destroyed:
...My friend Burt Kearns at Tabloid Baby got the ball rolling in typically stylish fashion on his blog yesterday in taking Lewis to task for the anti-gay slur. It happened during the 18th hour of the annual fundraising event, with a fatigued Jerry blurting during a bit of onstage improv, "Your family has come to see you... you remember Bart, your oldest son... Jesse, the illiterate fag." There was an audible gasp in the crowd, but it didn't stop the checks from rolling in on schedule en route to a record $63.7 million haul.(Funny. The very controversial chapter about Jerry Lewis and his telethon in Burt Kearns' book, Tabloid Baby, is titled "Lesbians, Cripples & Clowns." Click here to find out why.)
Does this mean Jerry Lewis is homophobic? No. He could be. But it's more about a tired old man (he's 81) allowing some of his Vegas lounge act to slip into a live national TV broadcast. He cut his showbiz teeth during an era when it was just fine to defame gays, blacks, Latinos, Jews, whomever. Them days are gone -- as Lewis well knows -- but sometimes, if the brain isn't operating at maximum efficiency, old habits will intrude.
This comes on top of Jerry's having uttered the unfortunate phrase that Merv Griffin "deserved to die" last month because he purportedly did nothing to treat his prostate cancer. I doubt the man meant it that coldly, but he wasn't misquoted, either. I think it may be time for Jerry to take a little vacation and rest up, lest his mouth continue to sabotage the rest of his body.
(UPDATE: Jerry apologized this afternoon.)