- Associated Press - Monday, September 6, 2010

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Despite the struggling economy, officials with the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon say contributions and pledges from this year’s Labor Day event totaled $58.9 million.

While the amount was down from $60.5 million last year and a record $65 million in 2008, Lewis said he was pleased with the support to advance the research and service programs of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

“I’m heartened by the unique ability of Americans to help others in need, when they themselves are likely struggling financially,” said Lewis, national chairman of the Tucson, Ariz.-based MDA.

The 45th annual telethon originated for the fifth consecutive year from the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas and reached some 40 million viewers through 170 television stations.

Dozens of performers joined the 21 1/2-hour event, including Barry Manilow, Michael Feinstein, Maureen McGovern, Charo, Carrot Top and Norm Crosby.

Telethon co-hosts included Jann Carl, Alison Sweeney and Nancy O’Dell.

“I think it ($58.9 million) is a huge amount for a tough economy,” Carl told The Associated Press. “This is what brings tears to our eyes. It shows the heart of America. We’re terribly humbled and so grateful.”

For the first time, a child _ MDA National Goodwill Ambassador Abbey Umali, 11, of Redlands, Calif. _ opened the telethon Sunday afternoon. She performed two songs, including “Ordinary Miracle,” which drew a rousing audience response.

Lewis said the funds will allow the MDA to continue funding worldwide research to find treatments and cures for muscular dystrophy and related diseases.

“People see the progress MDA is making for children and adults living with muscle diseases,” he said. “I’m truly grateful for their caring enough to brighten the future for ‘my kids.’”

Lewis, 84, ended the telethon with the traditional singing of his signature song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”