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Shari Lewis was born Phyllis Hurwitz to Ann and Abraham Hurwitz on January 17, 1934, in New York City. Her father was a founding member of Yeshiva University in New York City.
Through the encouragement of both of her parents, Shari began performing at the age of thirteen when her father taught her magic acts with Jewish content. As a youth, she had lessons in acrobatics, juggling, piano,violin and ventriloquism. She studied piano and violin at New York’s High School of Music and Art, dance at the American School of Ballet, and acting with Sanford Meisner of the Neighborhood Playhouse. She attended Columbia University for one year, then left college to become a performer.
In 1952, Lewis and her puppetry won first prize on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts television show. In March 1956, she and Lamb Chop appeared on Captain Kangaroo and by 1960 she had her own television program. Shari subsequently had numerous series both in the UK and the US, and performed extensively around the country at venues as varied as Performing Arts Centers, County Fairs and Branson, MO. Shari also was an accomplished conductor of orchestras and wrote over 60 books
In the early ’90s, the Public Broadcasting System approached her about reviving her television show. Lamb Chop’s Play-Along, seen on PBS stations and reproduced in video, grew out of PBS interest and Lewis’s discontent with commercial television.
The video Lamb Chop’s Special Chanukah was released in 1996 and received the Parent’s Choice award of the year.
Among her awards are thirteen Emmy Awards, the Dor L’Dor award of the B’nai B’rith (1996), three Houston Film Festival awards, the Peabody Award (1960), the Silver Circle Award of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (1996), the Film Advisory Board Award of Excellence (1996), two Charleston Film Festival Gold Awards (1995), the Houston World Festival silver and bronze awards (1995), the New York Film and Video Festival Silver Award (1995), the Monte Carlo Prize for the World’s Best Television Variety Show (1963), and the Kennedy Center annual award for excellence (1983).
Shari Lewis died in 1998 of pneumonia while being treated at Cedars-Sinai Hospital at the age of 65. Shari is survived by daughter, Mallory Lewis (who now performs with Lamb Chop) and grandson, Jamie Hood, who sleeps with his Grandma’s Lamb Chop!