Entertainer Shari Lewis, creator of Lamb Chop, dies

NEW YORK — Shari Lewis, a universally known puppeteer and creator of award-winning children's television, has died at 64.

With her ventriloquism skills and her well-known side kicks — Lamb Chop, Hush Puppy and Charlie Horse — Lewis was able to reach the homes and hearts of children everywhere.

Born in New York on Jan. 17, 1934, Lewis began piano lessons when she was 2 years old, fostering a lifelong love for music.

Her first big break in show business came in 1952, when she was a winner on the "Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts" TV show.

Five years later, she introduced her sock puppet, Lamb Chop, to the "Captain Kangaroo Show." This led her eventually to develop her own television program, "The Shari Show."

Although she was raised in an observant Jewish home — her father taught at Yeshiva University — Lewis herself was turned off by Judaism at a young age because when she was growing up girls generally did not become bat mitzvah.

"I remember all the children putting their menorahs in the window at Chanukah. I never did that," Lewis recalled when she was presented with the B'nai B'rith Dor L'Dor Award in 1996.

But in recent years, as women have become more active in Jewish ritual, Lewis identified more openly with her Jewish identity through her entertainment work.

She produced two Jewish holiday programs for PBS — "Lamb Chop's Special Chanukah" and "Shari's Passover Surprise" — that also are available on video.

Lewis also wrote a number of children's books, including "One-Minute Jewish Stories."