- Associated Press - Sunday, September 4, 2011

LAS VEGAS (AP) - The hosts of the 46th annual Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon said Sunday that Jerry Lewis retired from the organization and its yearly fundraiser _ the charity’s first comments about the beloved icon’s departure since an announcement last month.

Lewis publicist Candi Cazau declined comment to The Associated Press when told of the statements that opened the telethon on Sunday.

Co-host Nigel Lythgoe said during his opening comments on the telethon that he didn’t realize Lewis, 85, was thinking about retirement during the show last year, when the comedian offered Lythgoe his seat as Lewis took a break and Lythgoe was coming on the air.

“He made such a big point about it. `I’ve never done this before,’ he said,” said Lythgoe, the executive producer of “American Idol.” “I didn’t realize then that he was contemplating retiring.

“And Jerry, and I know you’re watching, when you gave me that chair I know it’s possible to sit on it, but it’s isn’t possible, Jerry, to replace you, sir,” he said. “What you have done for this organization and its families is something close to a miracle and I know that we all want to carry on your legacy.”

Entertainment journalist Jann Carl followed Lythgoe by saying Lewis retired from the telethon this year.

“As Nigel just said, Jerry retired from the telethon this year, but of course, he’s here with us in spirit and in heart, and we will continue to be energized and inspired by what I like to call his towering example,” Carl said. “I mean that.”

Carl said Lewis‘ dream is to rid the world of muscle disease, and she’s making that her dream.

MDA spokesman Jim Brown declined comment beyond the hosts’ remarks, but said the telethon would include at least one more nod to Lewis.

Later, during the show’s first hour, superstar singer Celine Dion mentioned Lewis again during a taped segment, referring to him as a friend as she introduced a cover performance of Journey’s “Open Arms.”

Jerry, you will always be a hero to the MDA families,” Dion said.

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.

The Lewis-less telethon began airing live on the east coast Sunday night with an opening number featuring young dancers performing to David Guetta’s “Titanium,” with an introduction from Abbey Umali, the organization’s tween goodwill ambassador.

The MDA is asking millions of Americans during the six-hour broadcast for at least $1 more than the $58.9 million it raised last year.

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

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