'Munsters' star 'Grandpa' Al Lewis dies
The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, February 5, 2006
NEW YORK - Al Lewis, the cigar-chomping patriarch of "The Munsters" whose work as a basketball scout, restaurateur and political candidate never eclipsed his role as Grandpa from the television sitcom, died after years of failing health. He was 82.
The actor was widely reported to have been born in 1910, but his son Ted Lewis said Saturday that his father was born in 1923.
Lewis, with his wife at his bedside, passed away Friday night, said Bernard White, program director at WBAI-FM, where the actor hosted a weekly radio program. White made the announcement on the air during the Saturday slot where Lewis usually appeared.
"To say that we will miss his generous, cantankerous, engaging spirit is a profound understatement," White said.
Lewis, sporting a somewhat cheesy Dracula outfit, became a pop culture icon playing the irascible father-in-law to Fred Gwynne's ever-bumbling Herman Munster on the 1964-66 television show. He was also one of the stars of another classic TV comedy, playing Officer Leo Schnauzer on "Car 54, Where Are You?"
But Lewis' life off the small screen ranged far beyond his acting antics. A former ballplayer at Thomas Jefferson High School, he achieved notoriety as a basketball talent scout.
He operated a successful Greenwich Village restaurant, Grandpa's, where he was a regular presence.
Just two years short of his "90th" birthday, a ponytailed Lewis ran as the Green Party candidate against incumbent Gov. George Pataki. Lewis campaigned against what he said were draconian drug laws and the death penalty, while going to court in a losing battle to have his name appear on the ballot as "Grandpa Al Lewis."
He didn't defeat Pataki, but managed to collect more 52,000 votes.
Lewis was born Albert Meister in upstate New York before his family moved to Brooklyn, where the 6-foot-1 teen began a lifelong love affair with basketball. He later became a vaudeville and circus performer, but his career didn't take off until television did the same.
Unlike some television stars, Lewis never complained about getting typecast.
"Why would I mind?" he asked in a 1997 interview. "It pays my mortgage."