Farewell to a loved performer and puppet Loss: Shari Lewis, the multi-talented TV and nightclub entertainer, has died. With her passes the endearing puppet Lamb Chop, her trademark and alter ego.

August 04, 1998|By Myrna Oliver | Myrna Oliver,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Shari Lewis, the perky ventriloquist, puppeteer, singer and dancer who for four decades graced the television screen and nightclub stage accompanied by her lovable sock puppet Lamb Chop, has died. She was 65.

Lewis, who was diagnosed with uterine cancer in June, died Sunday at Cedars Sinai Medical Center of pneumonia, said her publicist, Maggie Begley. Lewis had been undergoing chemotherapy for the past six weeks.

The entertainer amassed a dozen Emmys, a Peabody Award, the John F. Kennedy Center Award for Excellence and Creativity, seven Parents' Choice Awards, the Action for Children's Television Award, and in 1995 the new ROMMIE award for her CD-ROM "Lamb Chop Loves Music."

She wrote more than 60 children's books and created 24 home videos, including the award-winning "101 Things for Kids To Do." A consummate musician, she played violin and piano and conducted major orchestras, including the National Symphony in Washington and the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Lewis' programs, which educated and entertained generations of children, were most often produced for PBS.

Her current show, which debuted in January, is "The Charlie Horse Music Pizza," produced by KCET in Los Angeles.

The show, which she said was designed to teach children the joy of making music, is co-produced by Golden Books Family Entertainment, which bought Shari Lewis Enterprises last year.

"There is no way to continue the show, because Shari was everything," said Laurel Lambert, a spokeswoman for KCET.

She said the series will air repeats through the fall and that three new episodes for the fall season have been taped.

Although Lewis manipulated dozens of puppets, her original Lamb Chop was the most enduring and endearing and became the trademark and alter ego of its creator. Next most famous were Charlie Horse and Hush Puppy.

In the early 1990s, Lewis created the PBS series "Lamb Chop's Play-Along," which she dubbed the "anti-couch potato show" because it encouraged sluggish youngsters to get up and interact with the program.

Although she is an indelible children's entertainer, Lewis also delighted nightclub crowds in Las Vegas, often with Donald O'Connor, and in Southern California. Her act typically included distinct segments -- such as puppets named Zsa Zsa and Phyllis comparing measurements and the unending search for men, Lewis dancing, and Lamb Chop in adult mode, tipsy and searching for a martini.

Barely 19, Lewis was a winner on Arthur Godfrey's television talent scout show in 1952. Within five years, she introduced Lamb Chop on the "Captain Kangaroo Show" for children.

That led immediately to "The Shari Lewis Show," which ran Saturday mornings on NBC for several years.

Devoted to children, Lewis worked on their behalf far beyond the camera and microphone. She raised a daughter, Mallory Tarcher, who was producer and executive story editor of Lewis' latest show.

She also served on the national boards of both the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America and of the International Reading Foundation. In 1995 she was national spokeswoman for the American Lung Association.

Fond of animals, she was on the board of the Los Angeles Zoo for three years.

In addition to her daughter, Lewis is survived by her husband and frequent collaborator, publisher Jeremy Tarcher, and a sister, Barbara Okun.

Services will be private, although a public memorial will be planned.

Pub Date: 8/04/98

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