The hosts of the 46th annual Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon said Sunday that Jerry Lewis retired from the organization and its yearly fundraiser.

Thus the annual MDA Labor Day telethon went on last night without Jerry Lewis as host.

Lewis, who has hosted the nearly round-the-clock fundraiser since 1966, and has been the face of the Muscular Dystrophy Association with his Jerry's Kids fund drive, was unceremoniously sacked by the organization earlier this year as the show was chopped to 6½ hours.

For decades, Labor Day weekend has meant the Jerry Lewis telethon for muscular dystrophy.

What is clear is that this marks the end of a television institution. Every year, Lewis would drag himself through more than 21 hours of live TV — often on the verge of tears — asking viewers to give to the Muscular Dystrophy Association to help those he calls Jerry's Kids. Over the years, he helped to raise more than $2 billion for the cause.

Lewis can often be abrasive. He has offended some over the years with insensitive remarks about women, gays and people with disabilities. But he has also built a strong following for his tireless efforts to help those with muscular dystrophy. And supporters were upset to hear he would no longer be part of the show. The sudden no-show and the unceremonious dismissal of the comedy legend from the show has irked his fans.

The MDA appears to have been more concerned about attracting new audiences in making this year's changes to the telethon. Donations have been down recently, and last year, the charity said it would shorten the show from 21.5 hours — which used to begin the day before Labor Day — to six hours and air it only on Sunday night.

Laura Lee Friedah, executive director for South Central New York MDA, says she thinks the changes will boost donations.