2004-09-09 / Top Stories

MDA Telethon Just Misses Record Despite Hurricane Woes

A nationwide outpouring of support for the late child poet Mattie Stepanek almost helped Jerry Lewis and the Muscular Dystrophy Association overcome the loss of Labor Day Telethon income from Florida as a result of Hurricane Frances.

MDA National Chairman Jerry Lewis and Mattie’s mother, Jeni, appealed to Telethon viewers in other parts of the nation to dig deeper to make up for the losses suffered in Florida, but the $2 million in lost revenue was too much to overcome. The final toteboard figure of $59.4 million was 1.8 percent below last year’s record $60.5 million.

“Even now, Mattie continues to perform miracles,” an exhausted Lewis said after the 21 1/2-hour marathon broadcast ended at 6 p.m Monday. “Without the love and hope that Mattie inspired in millions of Americans, there’s no way we would have come so close to reaching our goal in the face of inspired in millions of Americans, there’s no way we would have come so close to reaching our goal in the face of such overwhelming odds. Mattie smiled down on us today.”

Mattie, 13, MDA’s National Goodwill Ambassador for almost three years, was known around the world for his best-selling poetry, and his messages of love, peace and hope.

This was only the second time in 39 years that the Telethon has failed to surpass the previous year’s total. The last time it happened was during the recession of the early 1980s.

With massive power outages and other hurricane-related problems in Florida, MDA experienced a drastic decline in phone pledges and contributions, In addition, fire fighter Fill the- Boot drives, which account for about $1 million, and other Telethon special events were cancelled.

MDA “Love Network” stations in Jacksonville, Tampa, Sarasota and Gainesville cancelled their broadcasts of the Telethon completely, while all the remaining Florida stations that carry the show only aired the national portion of the program. The weather prevented any of the key local segments, during which most pledges are made, from taking place.

The Telethon, which over the decades as earned a reputation as one of the country’s greatest variety shows, featured its traditional lineup of singing, dancing and comedy performers.

The broadcast was highlighted by appeals and performances by Elton John, Oprah Winfrey, Celine Dion, Josh Groban, Carrot Top, Bill Maher, Charo, Kimberley Locke, Ray Romano, Don Francisco, Billy Crystal, Tony Orlando (also co-hosting in New York), Debbie Reynolds and many

others.

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