by Mitchel Cohen

What a sad day … and what an incredible, artistic and political life!

I first met Al Lewis in person in New Haven in 1971, at a demonstration in support of the jailed Black Panthers. I remember it being a very raw afternoon, and I kept staring at the man I’d later introduce myself to, wondering if that was the famous fellow standing all by himself unlike so many actors and famous people, and then lost in the small crowd that turned up.

Later, I was to learn that Grandpa was rarely alone in that way. Campaigning with him for Governor all over the City with other Green stalwarts like Frank Carr, Craig Seeman, Michele Danels, Afrime Derti, Carl Lawrence, Pete Dolack, Johann Moore and Robb Ross — the core of the Brooklyn Greens at that time — I was struck by the amount of adulation and genuine affection that so many people had for Al, especially (gulp!) cops, I suppose thanks to his role in “Car 54 Where Are You?” as well as “The Munsters”. They all wanted Al to sign autographs. I collected hundreds of signatures to put Al on the ballot from cops riding home on the Long Island Railroad and the Staten Island ferry. It was amazing, the transformation that came over people when Al greeted them. He ended up getting just over the 50,000 votes we needed to put the Green Party onto the ballot in NY State.

Al was also incredibly scholarly, a voluminous reader and fluent in Yiddish, which he used during his borscht-belt schticks, regalling his audiences with gossip and hilariously funny stories about his friends, which included certain Mafia chieftans like Gotti. He told Greens over and over about how his mama brought him to his first political protest — in defense of Sacco and Vanzetti. He continued to fight for political prisoners all his life.

One of his disappointments in the last few years was his difficulty in being able to read due to problems with his eyesight. But he maintained his sabre-slashing anarchistic stance when dealing with U.S. politicians, prison wardens and warmongers to the end.

Al and Karen were incredibly supportive of many people, including me, personally, when I was a Green Party candidate and as an organizer against pesticides and genetic engineering. They sponsored several events with the Roosevelt Island Greens at which I was the featured speaker, and contributed generously to the NoSpray Coalition over the years as well as to my campaign for Mayor with the Green Party in 2001. I remember when Al was already sick, a Reclaim the Streets party/demo happened to end up on Roosevelt Island. We marched past Al and Karen’s apartment, and I started the chant: “We love you Grandpa, we miss you, get better!” and pretty soon the hundreds of us took up the chant, lights came on in the apartments, people looked out windows, and everyone waved, knowing whom we were chanting about as we snaked by.

To say Al will be missed is, as is often the case, a vast understatement. Among the many issues that he took on, the fight to get rid of the onerous Rockefeller drug laws in New York (in which people have been imprisoned for 20 years and more for first offense non-violent drug charges) was dear to his heart, and he fought the thanatocracy ceaselessly to free the hundreds of those imprisoned, their lives meaninglessly stolen from them.

This crotchety, funny, whip-smart, annoying, funny, ribald, funny, generous, funny(!) and always dependable anti-racist activist was, in my opinion, one of the great people of the century, a legend walking among us. I loved him dearly, even (or especially) when we argued, and so did many, many others.

A life well-lived? Hell, a life in REVOLT!

Grandpa Al Lewis — Presenté !

‘Grandpa Munster’ Al Lewis Dies at 95


Associated Press Writer

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 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.

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.