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Jerry Lewis has been abruptly dismissed as the host of the annual Labor Day muscular dystrophy telethon.

“Jerry Lewis and the Muscular Dystrophy Association are making a mess of parting ways,” writes Timothy Mangan in the Orange County Register, “but aren’t saying why they are after 45 years and raising more than $1 billion for the nonprofit through its annual telethon.

His removal as the telethon host and association chairman caught media observers by surprise.  

“For the first time in 45 years, Jerry Lewis will not be pleading for donations in front of a camera Labor Day weekend after he was abruptly dismissed as the host of the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s telethon, an event that drew attention to the childhood disease and in its heyday was an annual television highlight,” wrote Steven Zeitchik and Deborah Vankin in the Los Angeles Times.

During his six decades of leadership, the telethons have raised nearly $2.5 billion, the MDA said.

“The announcement and the mysterious circumstances surrounding Lewis’ departure provoked an outcry from comedians and other performers, who still widely revere him for his groundbreaking routines and public service,” wrote Zeitchik and Vankin.

The MDA has not named a new host for the upcoming telethon this Labor Day weekend. There are reports that the Sept. 4 event will be led by a team of entertainment personalities, including Nigel Lythgoe, Jann Carl, Alison Sweeney and Nancy O’Dell.

The decision came after the MDA’s announcement in May that this would be Lewis’ final weekend and would appear in the closing moments of future telethons to sing his trademark number, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

In its heyday, the marathon telecast drew an A-list of entertainers, including Sammy Davis Jr., Liberace, the Supremes, Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra. However, in recent years, the event has looked increasingly shop-worn.

The telethon’s earnings had declined as well. It brought in $56.4 million in 2005. In 2009, the latest year for which records are available, the tally dropped to $45.6 million.

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