Al Lewis, best known for
his role as "Grandpa Munster" in the 1960s sit-com "The Munsters" and commonly
known as "Grandpa Al Lewis," died last Friday night in New York City at
the age of 82. Lewis, who ran for governor on the Green Party ticket
in 1998, was a long-time activist who campaigned against New York state's
draconian Rockefeller drug laws and the death penalty, among other causes.
Lewis also starred as Officer
Leo Schnauzer in the early 1960s sit-com "Car 54, Where Are You?" and later
guest starred on TV comedies such as "Taxi," "Green Acres," and "Lost in
Space," as well as movies including "They Shoot Horses, Don't They"" and
"Married to the Mob." But his role as the caustic, cigar-chomping
"Grandpa Munster" overshadowed the rest of his acting oeuvre.
|"Grandpa" Al Lewis with Anthony Papa, Judge Jerome Marks &
Frank Serpico, 2000 City Hall rally against the
Rockefeller drug laws (courtesy 15yearstolife.com)
Lewis was fine with that.
"Why would I mind?" he asked in a 1997 interview. "It pays my mortgage."
It also gave him a unique
popular appeal that he used to promote social justice. With a career
in activism dating back to the Sacco and Vanzetti trials, Lewis described
himself as an anarchist. Lewis used his gubernatorial campaign, as
well as his own Saturday-morning radio program on WBAI and numerous appearances
on the Howard Stern show as bully pulpit to speak out against injustice,
especially around the Rockefeller drug laws.
"He left this planet in better
shape than when he arrived," said friend and fellow Rockefeller law foe
Randy Credico. "Everyone thinks of him as Grandpa Munster.
Forget it. This guy was politically active all of his life.
He should not be pigeonholed as a vampire on a TV show," Credico said.
"He was so much more profound than that."
Drug war prisoners were some
of Lewis' most dedicated fans, said Elaine Bartlett, who served 16 years
under the Rockefeller laws. Not only did Lewis talk the talk, he
walked the walk, on innumerable picket line and in prison visits.
Lewis was invaluable in reforming those laws, she told the Associated Press.
"He helped put a human face on it," she said. "Who would even think
that a man in his position... would come out and fight for justice?"
"To say Al will be missed
is, as is often the case, a vast understatement," wrote NY Green Party
Cohen. "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 nonviolent 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!"
Al Lewis was born Alexander
Meister in Wolcott, NY in 1923. He moved to Brooklyn as a child.
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