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Jerry Lewis Will Not Participate In MDA Telethon, Says Publicist

Jerry Lewis will not participate in any way — live or pre-recorded — in this Sunday's telethon for muscular dystrophy. That's the final word, says the comedian's publicist, Candi Cazau. She says she spoke with Lewis last night and he dispelled rumors that he might record a song today that would air as part of the show.

The Las Vegas Sunreported several days ago that musicians were being assembled in the city to back up the 85-year-old comedian for one last recording of his signature song "You'll Never Walk Alone," his usual telethon finale. But yesterday, the paper said that the session was canceled.

Lewis announced earlier this year that he was retiring as host of the telethon, after 45 years, and after raising more than $2 billion for the cause. But he said he'd appear one last time on this year's abbreviated telethon to sing. Then, last month, the Muscular Dystrophy Association abruptly announced that Lewis would not be on the show at all and would no longer serve as the group's national chairman.

Neither Lewis nor the MDA have explained why the sudden split, but it was clear that the charity has been thinking for some time about revamping the telethon, to attract new audiences. Last year, it announced that it would cut the show down from 21.5 hours to only six hours, and broadcast it on Sunday night only. And it recruited as co-hosts American Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe, Nancy O'Dell of Entertainment Tonight, Alison Sweeney of The Biggest Loser and journalist Jann Carl.

The big question now is what the new team and format will do for this year's final tally. Last year, the telethon raised almost $59 million. Many Lewis fans are furious at his treatment by the Muscular Dystrophy Association, but Lewis also has his detractors. He could be abrasive, and offended some with insensitive remarks about gays, women and people with disabilities.

Pam Fessler is NPR's poverty and philanthropy correspondent.

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