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'Grandpa Munster' Al Lewis


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'Grandpa Munster' Al Lewis

by Larry McShane

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'Grandpa Munster' Al Lewis

NEW YORK, 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 on the evening of Friday, February 3, 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?"

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Al Lewis, Fred Gwynne and Charlotte Rae in the classic television

series, '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, Lewis 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 said. "I have bird-dogged high-school basketball since 1934. I have seen more high-school games than Dean Smith and Lou Carnesecca combined."

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Al Lewis

Lewis operated a successful Greenwich Village restaurant, Grandpa's, where he was a regular presence

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