LAS VEGAS – Showman Jerry Lewis raised nearly $64 million on Monday during his annual Labor Day Telethon to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association, topping last year's event by $3 million.
"We did it. We did it. I got my buck more. And more. We can go shopping," a jubilant Lewis said as the tote board topped $63.7 million for his 42nd telethon. Last year's record was $61 million.
As in the past, the International Association of Fire Fighters anchored the donations from local fill-the-boot drives with $25.2 million, eclipsing last year's $23.5 million.
"Whoa, whoa firefighters. They're all my heroes — every firefighter you see," Lewis said.
Harold Schaitberger, the union's general president, replied, "Jerry, you care about them and we care about you. We'll be with you every year."
Lewis, who has conquered both age and illness to anchor every telethon for more than half of his 81 years, showed no signs of slowing as he asked for pledges on Monday. While he spent many of the final hours of the 21 1/2-hour show behind a desk, his forays on stage to greet guests were spry and witty.
"We'll be here every year as long as I'm breathing in and out," Lewis said.
The telecast has raised $1.46 billion to fight the disease since it began in 1966 on a single television station in New York City. This year's telecast was carried by 190 stations in the United States and Canada and carried worldwide on the Internet.
The broadcast returned to Lewis' home town of Las Vegas last year after 11 years in Los Angeles.
"We're back in Vegas!"' he said. "It's the best location we could ask for to send out MDA's message of hope."