February 06, 2006 08:00 AM

Actor Al Lewis, a lovably batty presence in real life and on TV – where he famously played Grandpa Munster on the ’60s gothic sitcom The Munsters – died Friday night at his home in New York, after years of failing health. He was 95.

Lewis – who also starred with Munsters leading man Fred Gwynne in an earlier sitcom, the cop comedy Car 54, Where Are You? (as Officer Leo Schnauzer) – was born Albert Meister in upstate New York before his family moved to Brooklyn, where the 6’1″ teen began a lifelong love affair with basketball. He later became a vaudeville and circus performer, but it was on TV that he made his mark.

Asked how he felt being typecast for decades as the wise-cracking Munster relative in a Dracula cape, Lewis told an interviewer in 1997: “Why would I mind? It pays my mortgage.”

Besides his media career – Lewis, until only recently, hosted a weekly radio show on New York’s WBAI-FM – the actor operated a successful Greenwich Village restaurant called Grandpa’s (touristy Italian was the fare), and in 1998, a pony-tailed Lewis ran for governor, as the Green Party candidate against Republican incumbent Gov. George Pataki. (Lewis, who appeared as Grandpa Al Lewis on the ballot, campaigned against what he said were draconian drug laws and the death penalty.)

In 2003, Lewis developed complications during surgery that 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.

Lewis is survived by wife Karen Ingenthron-Lewis – who was at Lewis’s bedside at the time of his death – as well as three sons and four grandchildren, the Associated Press reports.

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