February 20, 2006 12:00 PM

Long after The Munsters, the ’60s sitcom about a friendly family of ghouls, went to its grave, fans would easily recognize Al Lewis, who played the clan’s vampiric, 378-year-old patriarch. “He really was Grandpa Munster,” says Ted Lewis, 41, of his dad. “There were no prosthetics. His nose was really that big, his sideburns really were that goofy. He and his character were really the same person.”

Lewis, a gregarious Brooklyn-bred vaudevillian turned character actor who died Feb. 3 at 82 of natural causes, led a colorful enough life even after The Munsters. His savvy in scouting out top high school basketball stars impressed NBA and college coaches. He was also shrewd enough to capitalize on his cult TV status, opening up a New York City eatery in the ’80s called Grampa’s, hosting his own local radio talk show and running for governor as a third-party candidate in 1998. The father of three sons from the first of two marriages, “he was a kind, sweet person under this blustery veneer,” says second wife Karen Lewis, 60. “He was almost like a father to me,” concurs Pat Priest, 69, who played Munster niece Marilyn. “I knew if I needed any help, I could go to Al.” A week before he died, Lewis summoned his sons to his bedside and enjoyed a last cigar. Fittingly, his ashes will be kept in a cigar box of his choosing.

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