Comedian Jerry Lewis has apologised for his use of an anti-gay joke during a fund-raising television broadcast for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

“Oh, your family has come to see you. You remember Bart, your oldest son, Jesse, the illiterate fag..” Lewis said before stopping mid sentence, presumably realising that the joke may not be appropriate in a politically correct society.

The 81-year-old comedian has been criticised by among others 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. “It also feeds a climate of hatred and intolerance that contributes to putting our community in harm’s way. Our nation’s media have done an admirable job this year holding public figures accountable for their use of anti-gay slurs, and I hope they continue to do so with Mr. Lewis.”

Mr Giuliano added: “We want to sit down with him, help him understand why these words are so hurtful, and give him an opportunity to raise public awareness about the destructive impact of these kinds of anti-gay slurs, even more so in attempted humour.”

Lewis has now apologised “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 added. “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.”