After 45 years of being the host of the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethons, Jerry Lewis has announced that he will be retiring after this year's fundraising effort on Sept. 4, 2011.

"As a labor of love, I’ve hosted the annual telethon since 1966, and I’ll be making my final appearance on the show this year by performing my signature song, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ ” Lewis said in a release.

The 85-year-old has been helping out with MDA telethons since 1952, when a staff member who worked on Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis' editions of the "Colgate Comedy Hour" pleaded for help. Starting in 1966, an annual Labor Day telethon was started that has continued to this day — with most lasting an average of 21 hours and collectively raising a stunning $2.45 billion.

"It's time for an all new telethon era," Lewis added. "This year's six-hour, prime-time telethon on September 4 will be spectacular, and I'm thrilled to be part of it. We're so close to treatments that it's absolutely vital for everyone to tune in and make a generous donation. America has always found a way each year to give me that just one dollar more to help my kids."

In 2009, Lewis was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. "This touches my heart and the very depths of my soul, not only because of who this award is from, but who it will benefit," Lewis said in accepting the award. "My humility is staggering."

The Washington Post has a collection of highlights of past telethons (including a young Ricky Martin with Menudo, John Lennon and The Jackson 5), as well as the classic reunion between Dean Martin and Lewis during the 1976 telethon.

Though he'll no longer host, Lewis says that he will stay on as an MDA chairman.

Thanks for everything, Jerry. We'll see you on Sept. 4.

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Jerry Lewis will retire as MDA telethon host
After more than 900 hours on the air — and $2.45 billion in fundraising — legendary comic and actor announces he's leaving to make way for 'a new telethon e