Firefighters Raise Nearly One-Third of Record $58M in MDA Labor Day Telethon

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association received a record $58.3 million in nationwide pledges through Monday, a telethon spokesman said.

The money raised included $17 million from the International Association of Fire Fighters, in memory of fallen firefighters. IAFF general president Harold Schaitberger said in the opening hour of the show that some of the firefighters who lost their lives Sept. 11 at the World Trade Center in New York were active volunteers for the MDA.

The 76-year-old Lewis, his face and body bloated and puffy due to steroid medication he takes for pulmonary fibrosis, was assisted during the 21 1/2-hour fund-raiser by co-hosts that included Ed McMahon, comedians Wayne Brady and Norm Crosby, and performers Charo and Andy Williams.

"I asked for their talent and energy, and they brought it all out on that stage for me and my kids,'' Lewis said. ``This was the most successful show we've ever done, and I couldn't have done any of this without them.''

Originating from CBS Television City in Los Angeles, the telethon broke a record set a year ago of $56.8 million, said telethon spokesman Bob Mackle. The 37th annual broadcast was shown on about 200 television stations.

Lewis sat in a chair during his periods as host.

Afterward, he praised the "generosity and compassion'' of contributors.

"That's America's real gift to people with neuromuscular diseases -- the knowledge that they're not alone in the fight, that their friends and neighbors are behind us in the drive to beat these devastating diseases.''

The privately funded MDA works to combat more than 40 neuromuscular diseases through research, services to those afflicted, and professional and public health education.

In the past few years, Lewis has been plagued by devastating physical ills, including spinal meningitis. chronic back pain and diabetes. Pulmonary fibrosis is an increase of fibrous tissue in the lungs.

IAFF Donates $17 Million Raised by Nation's Firefighters

International Association of Fire Fighters General President Harold Schaitberger, representing fire fighters and paramedics across the United States and Canada, appeared in the opening hour of the show in a tribute to the fire fighters who lost their lives on Sept. 11, noting that several of them had been active MDA volunteers.

IAFF representatives presented Lewis with checks totaling $17 million in memory of the fallen fire fighters. The union has been a partner with MDA for 49 years, and is MDA's largest national sponsor.