was born Alexander Meister on April 30, 1923 in upstate New York. (Contrary to what is listed in some sources, the actor was not born 1910. He changed his birth date to April 30, 1910 when he was cast in the role of Grandpa on The Munsters
so that he would appear to be older than Yvonne DeCarlo, who played his daughter Lily.) His family later moved to Brooklyn, where the 6" 1' teenager began a lifelong love affair with basketball. He started his show business career as a vaudeville and circus performer, and achieved success playing Officer Schnauzer opposite Fred Gwynne's Officer Francis Muldoon in Car 54, Where Are You?
The actor became a pop culture icon playing the cigar-chomping vampire patriarch on The Munsters
, and Lewis never escaped association with the charmingly warped 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 appeared in a number of movies, including They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and Married to the Mob. He reprised his role of Schnauzer in the movie remake of Car 54 . . ., and appeared as a guest star on television shows including Taxi, Green Acres and Lost in Space.
The irrepressible Lewis achieved notoriety as a basketball talent scout familiar to coaching greats like Jerry Tarkanian and Red Auerbach. He operated a successful restaurant in New York City's Greenwich Village, Grandpa's, where he was a regular presence - chatting with customers, posing for pictures, and signing autographs. 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. 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 than 52,000 votes.
In 2003, Lewis was hospitalized for an angioplasty. Complications during surgery led to an emergency bypass and Lewis spent the next month in a coma. A year later, he was back offering his recollections of the punk band The Ramones on the DVD Ramones Raw.
Lewis died on Friday, February 3, 2006 in New York City at the age of 82. His wife was by his side. The news of the actor's death was announced by Bernard White, program director at WBAI-FM -- where Lewis, a lifelong activist, hosted a weekly radio program -- 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.