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'Lamb Chop' creator Shari Lewis dead at 65

Web posted on: Monday, August 03, 1998 1:04:43 PM

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Popular puppeteer Shari Lewis, who won a dozen Emmys and a Peabody for children's programs that began drawing network audiences in 1960, died Sunday night of pneumonia while being treated at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Her family was at her side. She was 65.

It takes a very talented person to turn an old sock into a superstar. Yet that's just what Lewis did when she created the character of Lamb Chop.

CNN's Jill Brooke reports on the life and work of the puppeteer
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It all started when she and her sock made a guest appearance on a TV show. Kids loved it -- and so did parents. By 1960, the perky, pint-sized performer with the flaming red hair had her own show, "The Shari Lewis Show," encouraging kids to participate in fun-filled games while teaching them moral lessons through song and dance.

"Self esteem comes from doing something and accomplishing something," she once said. "It doesn't come from watching TV. I try to do activities, I try to turn TV into an activity."

Shari Lewis began her career with her sidekick, sock puppet Lamb Chop, as a guest on a television show

Old-fashioned, but up-to-date

The concept of the show remained the same for decades. In an age of Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, her show was refreshingly old-fashioned.

"A mother came up to me and said, 'I want to thank you for keeping our kids kids for a little while longer,'" she said. "I was thrilled."

Yet she also managed to stay in tune with her little viewers. As their attention spans became shorter over the years, so did her skits. "I let the winds of MTV blow through the show whenever possible, a lot of electronics for transitions, a lot of effects," she explained.

And she added CD-ROMs to her repertoire -- they were the best-selling, and best-reviewed, to come out in a number of years.

Lewis kept the same concept for her shows throughout the years

Her innovation in children's programming didn't stop with Lamb Chop's creation.

The latest of her many shows, the PBS children's series "The Charlie Horse Music Pizza," became a family venture, with daughter Mallory and longtime husband Jeremy Tarcher as part of the creative team. They were all working together when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer in June 1998.

Lewis was a gifted singer, dancer, writer, ventriloquist and musician. She wrote over 30 books, sold thousands of videos and won 12 Emmys, including five for her last PBS series, "Lamb Chop's Play-Along." But many say she was also something more: Shari Lewis cared about quality television, and she always cared about the kids.

Correspondent Jill Brooke contributed to this report.


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