Shari Lewis took a plain white sock and brought it to life as the spirited, squeaky-voiced puppet named Lamb Chop, charming children with both simple comedy and lessons about life.
The 12-time Emmy winner, diagnosed with uterine cancer in June, developed pneumonia while undergoing chemotherapy and died Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, publicist Maggie Begley said Monday. She was 65.Bob Keeshan, whose "The Captain Kangaroo Show" introduced the Lewis-Lamb Chop team, said Miss Lewis breathed life into the most mundane of props.
"Lamb Chop was an old white sock. What Shari did was bring her personality. She put all kinds of wonderful personality in that sock so you completely believed that was a gentle little lamb," he said.
Miss Lewis left TV in the 1960s but returned in recent years with the PBS children's series "Lamb Chop's Play-Along" and "The Charlie Horse Music Pizza." She stopped production six weeks ago to begin cancer treatments.
"She was a weaver of magic, bringing laughter, knowledge and joy to the hearts of children and adults alike," said PBS President Ervin S. Duggan.
The ventriloquist provided lessons on kid-sized issues like sharing and cheating with funny songs and the help of her furry sidekicks, including Charlie Horse and Hush Puppy. But it was the long-lashed, slyly impudent Lamb Chop who became her trademark.
"I think there's a simplicity to Lamb Chop that is an important part of her appeal," Miss Lewis said in a 1996 interview. "But I don't really know what it is that is the continuing element. I know that I don't like to lose, and that certainly is an element."
Miss Lewis, whose parents were educators in New York, studied at the city's High School of Music and Art and at the School of American Ballet.
She and Lamb Chop debuted on "The Captain Kangaroo Show" in the mid-'50s, which led to her own Saturday morning NBC program, "The Shari Lewis Show."
She became a Las Vegas performer, then did celebrity game-shows. When those went off the air, she conducted symphony orchestras and appeared in dramas and movies.
Miss Lewis wrote more than 60 books, created video and audiocassettes and performed on stage in "Lamb Chop on Broadway" and other musicals.
Miss Lewis lived in Beverly Hills with her husband of 40 years, publisher Jeremy Tarcher. She also was survived by a sister and a daughter.