LAS VEGAS -- Even without Jerry Lewis, the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon posted its best gain since the recession started, though the program's longtime host was on the minds of many during the 46th annual fundraiser.

"American Idol" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe said after co-hosting Sunday's program that he's sorry the famed comedian didn't participate, but the organization needs to move on to ensure the fundraiser continues.

The telethon raised nearly $61.5 million Sunday, an increase of about $2.6 million over last year, MDA officials said.

Lythgoe told The Associated Press minutes after the six-hour live broadcast ended on the east coast that he thought the 85-year-old actor would show up either during the telecast or earlier to film a taped segment of his signature song "You'll Never Walk Alone."

"I was fully expecting him to turn up at any point and join that six hours -- and I'm sorry he didn't," Lythgoe told the AP. "And hopefully another year he might. I mean, he knows that he is always welcome on the telethon. It's his baby."

An orchestra was ready to film Lewis, but he didn't come to the Las Vegas casino where the telethon was filmed, Lythgoe said.

Lewis publicist Candi Cazau declined comment when reached by the AP. Earlier, she said Lewis never agreed to any appearance -- recorded or live -- after the MDA announced in August he wouldn't take part in the show or be its chairman.

Lythgoe and co-host Jann Carl said during the show that Lewis "retired."

The fundraiser raised $58.9 million last year, but was shortened this year from 21 1/2 hours.

Brown said early Monday that this year's donations increased to nearly $61.5 million, the MDA's best showing since 2008 when the recession started.

Lythgoe said the telethon and cause can't center around one man -- even Lewis.

"It has to continue without him and we are going to need a lot of help from everybody to ensure that it does continue," Lythgoe said. "Because Jerry, bless him, is 85 and isn't going to be around forever anyway. And the MDA and this telethon has to continue."