In a star-studded, emotional 22 1/2 hours, the 20th annual Jerry Lewis muscular dystrophy telethon raised a record $33 million to fight neuromuscular disease.
The $33,181,652 pledged across the country in the “Jerry Lewis Supershow,” which ended at 3:30 p.m. Monday, was $1.1 million more than the record $32,074,566 set during the Labor Day weekend event last year.
Lewis said he expected the entire year’s donations to the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. to exceed last year’s total of $81.6 million as contributions continue to pour in.
“My fondest hope is that one day there will be no more telethons” because Lewis and the MDA would have eradicated some 40 neuromuscular diseases that are the MDA’s targets, co-host Sammy Davis Jr. said.
“I hope the Lord lets me live long enough to see that happen,” said Davis, who led the show’s segment from Atlantic City.
During the telethon, former Iranian hostage Bob Keough described his bout with ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and actress Ann-Margret spoke about her husband, actor Roger Smith, who is battling myasthenia gravis.
Entertainer Milton Berle provided another poignant moment with his first public appearance since undergoing quadruple bypass heart surgery earlier this year. Looking strong and healthy, Berle said he and Lewis, who underwent emergency heart bypass surgery almost three years ago, could thank muscular dystrophy research for saving their lives.
Lewis has credited MDA research and the millions of dollars donated over the years with providing the technology that saved his life.
As the telethon drew to a close, hundreds of people crowded into a sports pavilion at Caesars Palace resort and joined Lewis in cheering the tote board recording the $33 million.
Lewis then sang his traditional closing number, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which he dedicated to “all of my kids.”
Among the some 100 celebrities in this year’s show were co-host Tony Orlando, Frank Sinatra, Liberace, Casey Kasem, Lola Falana, Billy Crystal, Joe Piscopo, David Brenner, Wayne Newton, Norm Crosby, Charlie Callas, Rip Taylor and Fred Travalena. Ed McMahon served as anchorman with Lewis in Las Vegas.
The telethon, inaugurated in New York City in 1966, was telecast over nearly 200 stations this year. The A.C. Nielsen Co. estimated that 96 million Americans watched all or part of the show last year.
Lewis, who has been MDA national chairman for 31 years, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 for his work with the association.
The money raised for the association helps support MDA’s worldwide research effort and a national network of some 240 hospital-affiliated clinics.
Gifts pledged by corporations and organizations during the telethon included $7.5 million from the Southland Corp. and $5 million from the International Assn. of Firefighters.