'Grandpa' Al Lewis dies at 82

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 familiar to
coaching greats like Jerry Tarkanian and Red Auerbach.

In an interview in the publication New Times in 1998, when Lewis was a Green Party candidate for governor of New York, he said he didn't recruit high school players, but "bird-dogged" talent for college coaches. Considered a college hoops fanatic, he said he had as many as 60 Division I college coaches calling him for tips.

"You can call Marty Blake, the chief scout for the NBA, he lives outside Atlanta, and ask him who is the most knowledgeable man of roundball you have ever met. Without hesitation he will tell you Al Lewis," he told New Times. "I have bird-dogged high-school basketball since 1934. I have seen more high-school games than Dean Smith and Lou Carnesecca combined."

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

In 1998, 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 than 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

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.