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02-04-2006, 05:00 PM
‘Munsters’ star ‘Grandpa’ Al Lewis dies at 95
Actor, restaurateur and politician also hosted a weekly radio show



Updated: 3:09 p.m. ET Feb. 4, 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 95.

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 annoion 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 familiar to coaching greats like Jerry Tarkanian and Red Auerbach.

He operated a successful Greenwich Village restaurant, Grandpa’s, where he was a regular presence—chatting with customers, posing for pictures, signing autographs.

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 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 Alexander 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.

Lewis, as Officer Schnauzer, played opposite Gwynne’s Officer Francis Muldoon in “Car 54, Where Are You?”—a comedy about a Bronx police precinct that aired from 1961-63. One year later, the duo appeared together in “The Munsters,” taking up residence at the fictional 1313 Mockingbird Lane.

The series, about a family of clueless creatures plunked down in middle America, was a success and ran through 1966. It forever locked Lewis in as the memorably twisted character; decades later, strangers would greet him on the street with shouts of “Grandpa!”

Unlike some television stars, Lewis never complained about getting typecast and made appearances in character for decades.

“Why would I mind?” he asked in a 1997 interview. “It pays my mortgage.”

Lewis rarely slowed down, opening his restaurant and hosting his WBAI radio program. At one point during the ‘90s, he was a frequent guest on the Howard Stern radio show, once sending the shock jock diving for the delay button by leading an undeniably obscene chant against the Federal Communications Commission.

He also popped up in a number of movies, including the acclaimed “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” and “Married to the Mob.” Lewis reprised his role of Schnauzer in the movie remake of “Car 54,” and appeared as a guest star on television shows such as “Taxi,” “Green Acres” and “Lost in Space.”

But in 2003, Lewis was hospitalized for an angioplasty. Complications during surgery led to an emergency bypass and the amputation of his right leg below the knee and all the toes on his left foot. Lewis spent the next month in a coma.

A year later, he was back offering his recollections of a seminal punk band on the DVD “Ramones Raw.”

He is survived by his wife, Karen Ingenthron-Lewis, three sons and four grandchildren.

© 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

02-04-2006, 06:27 PM
You mean he was still alive?

02-04-2006, 06:28 PM
You mean he was still alive?

Yep... Grandpa Al they used to call 'em.

02-04-2006, 06:37 PM
Yeah, he used to be on stern all the time didn't he?

02-04-2006, 06:38 PM
Ya... back in the day.

02-09-2006, 01:28 PM
Surprise surprise, MSNBC santize (Al's political legacy).

From Daily Ireland

“It doesn't happen. The struggle goes on. The victory is in the struggle, for me. And I accepted that a long time ago.”

Al Lewis, the actor who played Grandpa Munster in the 1960s TV sitcom The Munsters, died in New York last Friday at the age of 95.

In the 1960s, Grandpa Munster — the cigar-smoking vampire father-in-law of the Frankenstein’s monster-like Herman on The Munsters — was a regular presence on television screens from Cairo to Chicago, and Belfast to Buenos Aires.

Given that he rode the wings of US cultural imperialism to global fame, it would seem likely that Lewis had a soft spot for the US brand of capitalism. In fact, he had anything but that.

Born as Alexander Meister on a farm in upstate New York in 1910, he moved to Brooklyn with his family as a child. His introduction to show business occurred at 13 when he began an eight-year stint as a circus worker — initially cleaning up elephant droppings before graduating to become a clown and eventually a trapeze artist.

From there, his trajectory as an entertainer would take him into vaudeville and Broadway, before eventually landing him a role in the hit TV sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? in 1961. Car 54, a comedy about a police precinct in the Bronx, saw him team up with the actor Fred Gwynne.

In 1964, a year after Car 54 went off the air, the pair joined up again to play Grandpa and Herman in The Munsters, which ran until 1966 and is still running on the TV Land nostalgia network.

On paper at least, Lewis’ career appeared linear or as linear as an entertainer’s could be. However, through it all, he also developed deep progressive political convictions, convictions that took him on periodic tangents into union organising in the south and protesting for civil rights and against the Vietnam War.

Along the way, he also acquired the title Dr Al Lewis, by earning a doctorate in child psychology from New York’s Columbia University in 1941.

In the 1960s, he would also become an ally and advocate of the Black Panther Party. He actually taught black history at some of the group’s teach-ins and helped to raise money for defence lawyers needed by the group when it was targeted by the FBI’s infamous Cointelpro programme.
He also became an ardent defender of Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. He continued to visited the Caribbean island regularly despite the 1963 law banning US citizens from travel there. (Lewis’ PhD allowed him to exploit exemption for academics in the law.)

By the 1990s, Lewis was owner of a popular restaurant in Manhattan — named Grandpa’s, naturally. He had also become a fixture on public radio in New York, where he used his weekly show to champion the rights of workers, unions, the poor and underprivileged. In 1998, he even ran for governor of New York as a Green Party candidate. He didn’t have a prayer of winning but his garnering of more than 52,000 votes was enough to guarantee the Greens a place on New York’s electoral ballots for the next four years.

In 1997, during an extensive interview with The Shadow, an underground New York newspaper, Lewis credited his mother with giving him his political direction in life.

“My mother was an immigrant woman, a peasant woman. Struggled all her life. Worked in the garment centre. Understood what the struggle was about. My mother couldn't read or write but she had more sense than many a graduate from Harvard,” he said.

He said he had attended large May Day demonstrations in New York with his mother from an early age. By the time the Great Depression hit, he was a full-blown socialist. He said the hard times of that era had solidified his beliefs.

“You’re aware of bread-and-butter issues. How could I not be aware during the Depression that people were starving? And I was helping my mother sell apples. How could I not be aware?” said Lewis.

He said his activism, particularly in defending the rights of homeless people during the Great Depression, had frequently led to confrontations with the police.

“During the Depression, people were getting evicted, ten a day. We used to come along and break the lock and put the furniture back in again,” said Lewis.

“We would storm the Home Relief Centres, that or this person didn't get a cheque for $8 or something, and get hit on the head” by police, he said.
After an era of progressive gains during the 1960s, the United States went on to experience a backlash during the Reagan years that turned the country sharply to the right but Lewis never lost his idealism.

“Everybody in this society wants the quick fix,” he told The Shadow.
“So do the radicals, whatever you want to call them. A bumper sticker, put it on your car: ‘I'm a radical’, ‘I'm a lefty’, ‘I'm a progressive’, ‘I'm left of centre’. It's all bullshit. I learned a long time ago — I've been in the struggle over 70 years. It doesn't bother me I may not win.

“After doing X amount of time or years, don't throw your hands up in the air because, you see, everybody wants ‘the win’. They want it today,” he added.

“It doesn't happen. The struggle goes on. The victory is in the struggle, for me. And I accepted that a long time ago.”