In Memoriam: Al Lewis Dead at 82 -- Best Known as "Grandpa Munster," Actor Was Also Activist and Drug Law Reformer 2/10/06

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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.

"Grandpa" Al Lewis with Anthony Papa, Judge Jerome Marks &
Frank Serpico, 2000 City Hall rally against the
Rockefeller drug laws (courtesy 15yearstolife.com)
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.

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 member Mitchel 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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Issue #422 -- 2/10/06

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Editorial: I Was Almost on TV Last Week | Feature: Federal Drug Budget Continues Modest Downward Trend, but Strategy Promises Same Old Same Old | Feature: States, Colleges Block Financial Aid to Students with Drug Convictions Even When They Don't Have To, DRCNet-sponsored Study Finds | Feature: With Australia in the Grip of Reefer Madness, New South Wales Moves to Severely Punish the Dreaded "Hydro" | Europe: Italy Takes a Giant Step Backward | Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Medical Marijuana: California County Drops Federal Lawsuit, Will Seek to Overturn Compassionate Use Act in State Court | Harm Reduction: Pediatricians Back Needle Exchange Programs | Chronic Pain: Florida Pain Patient Appeals Drug Trafficking Sentence Amidst Media Glare | In Memoriam: Al Lewis Dead at 82 -- Best Known as "Grandpa Munster," Actor Was Also Activist and Drug Law Reformer | Web Scan: New LEAP Video, Reason on Bush's Drug Warriors, Afghan Farmers in London, Conservatives Attacked Over Soros Link, Humanists Resolution | Weekly: This Week in History | Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar


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