- Associated Press - Sunday, September 4, 2011

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Although absent its biggest star in Jerry Lewis, the Muscular Dystrophy Association is asking millions of Americans to raise at least $1 more than the $58.9 million it took in last year during its annual Labor Day weekend telethon.

This year’s revamped fundraiser plans to trot out as much A-list punch as it can muster Sunday night as the charity works to raise money for neuromuscular research, clinics and summer camp for youngsters known as “Jerry’s Kids.”

But the association’s inextricable bond to the beloved actor and comedian seemed certain to hang over the six-hour primetime TV production.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be the same,” said Denise Miller, 49, of Bloomingdale, N.J., a longtime donor who said she has watched the telethon since she was a teenager, but now wonders why Lewis and the organization parted ways.

The MDA announced in August that the 85-year-old showbiz veteran would not take part in the annual telethon and was no longer the organization’s chairman. But despite intense curiosity and some criticism, neither the MDA nor Lewis have explained why their association of about six decades came to an end.

Lewis, who’s appeared in scores of films and TV shows as well as produced, directed and taught film, had been chairman of the MDA since the early 1950s, before the famed telethon began.

In 1977, Lewis was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the telethon and the MDA.

Miller said she still plans to tune in and donate because she wants to support the children _ a value she says she learned from Lewis.

“He provided the reason for me to believe that my money is going to a good cause,” she said. “I’m not going to turn my back on the cause of what he’s built because it is, to me, valuable… But I want to see him.”

The telethon to be staged at a Las Vegas hotel-casino was shortened to six hours from 21 1/2 hours last year. It will be broadcast live to the Eastern time zone from 6 p.m.-12 a.m. EDT and tape-delayed in other U.S. zones. Final donation totals won’t be tallied until the show goes off the air in Hawaii.

Rumors flew among those close to the telethon in recent weeks that Lewis might perform the show’s final number, singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” one final time. But Lewis publicist Candi Cazau said he never agreed to any appearance _ recorded or live _ after the MDA announced he wouldn’t take part in the show.

Lewis told a group of television critics just before the MDA announced the split that he would explain everything after the telethon, hinting that he plans to still raise money for muscular dystrophy work. But no news conference is scheduled, Cazau said.

MDA spokesman Jim Brown declined to say whether Lewis would even be mentioned during the show.

Still, the charity could have a tribute segment up its sleeve, and the spontaneity of live television means it’s entirely possible someone could mention Lewis during the broadcast.

Just don’t expect to see Lewis himself, Cazau said.

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