Jerry Lewis

The annual Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon wasted no time in offering a tribute to its longtime host, Jerry Lewis, and potentially defusing any backlash or disappointment with his absence.

Jerry Lewis won't host this year's telethon

After a dance performance opened the show, Lewis' replacements — Nigel Lythgoe, Jann Carl, Alison Sweeney and Nancy O'Dell — took the stage and immediately took turns talking about the comedian/filmmaker's five-decade commitment to raising money for a cure. Huge photos of Lewis at various stages of his career served as a backdrop on stage as they talked.

In May, Lewis, who had hosted the telethon since 1966, announced he was retiring as MDA chairman and that this year's Labor Day weekend telethon would be his last. But the MDA subsequently — and rather tersely and unceremoniously — said Lewis would not host this year's show.

The new hosts alluded to how Lewis had "retired."

Jerry Lewis stepping down from Labor Day telethon

Lewis' publicist Candi Cazau declined to comment to The Associated Press when told of the comments to start Sunday night's program. And MDA spokesman Jim Brown refused to elaborate on the hosts' words.

O'Dell talked about how MDA was there for her and her family while her mother was dying of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). "And, boy, did Jerry's closing song, 'You'll Never Walk Alone,' hit home the year that my mom passed away," she said.

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Lythgoe talked about how Lewis was irreplaceable. "What you have done for this organization and its families is something close to a miracle," he said. "And I know that we all want to carry on your legacy. We're going to try and, with a humble heart, and occasionally a good laugh — because you taught us, above all, that laughter can cure almost anything — I trust we will continue to be successful."

And then, it was on with the show and the fundraising. Do you miss Jerry?