Lewis is on receiving end this time

Hersholt Award winner says his Oscar 'touches me in the very depths of my soul'

Comedy film icon Jerry Lewis was greeted with a standing ovation when he took the Kodak Theatre stage to accept a special Oscar for his longtime charitable endeavors.

Never nominated for an Oscar, the prolific multihyphenate was honored Sunday with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Lewis said he was deeply touched by the honor.

"For most of my life, I've thought that doing good for someone didn't mean you would receive any commendation for an act of kindness — until now," said Lewis, who has battled health problems in recent years and spoke in a slow but strong voice. "This award touches me in the very depths of my soul."

Eddie Murphy presented the honorary Oscar to Lewis, whom he dubbed a "famous overgrown kid" who has drawn inspiration from children.

"To all of you in the movie business, it's such a joy to be a part of you and all that you do," said Lewis, who made his screen debut in 1949, appearing with nightclub-act partner Dean Martin in the romantic comedy "My Friend Irma."

In recent decades, Lewis has drawn equal acclaim for his televised charity marathons on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. The annual Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon has raised more than $2 billion since 1966.

Lewis and Martin starred in 16 films, and the pair eventually followed solo career paths. Lewis gained prominence as a comedy star, director and producer, with film credits including "The Bellboy," "The Nutty Professor," "The Disorderly Orderly" and Martin Scorsese's "The King of Comedy."

The Academy's selection of Lewis to receive this year's humanitarian award has drawn criticism. Some cited his use of the slur "fag" on his 2007 telethon, and during an interview in October on Australian TV, he referred to cricket as "a fag game." Some in the disabled community also objected to the honor going to Lewis, claiming he has perpetuated negative stereotypes involving people with disabilities.

Academy executive director Bruce Davis defended the decision from such Internet-based protests, saying Lewis "has shouldered the back-breaking job of organizing, and then leading, an unparalleled three-day fundraising effort on behalf of muscular dystrophy sufferers." (partialdiff)