Lan O’Kun Dies: Emmy-Winning Shari Lewis Collaborator, Screenwriter And Playwright Was 87

Nat Segaloff

Lan O’Kun, a multi-talent whose long collaboration with sister-in-law and entertainer Shari Lewis brought to life Lamb Chop and other beloved characters, died Jan. 9 at his home in Malibu. He was 87 and passed from heart failure.

A composer, lyricist, writer, performer, storyteller, and pianist, O’Kun created hundreds of scripts and songs for ventriloquist Shari Lewis and her puppets Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse, and Hush Puppy., 

Born January 13, 1932 in New York City, O’Kun was enrolled in New York’s High School of Music and Art. He graduated from Syracuse University in New York.

His career as a writer includes scripts for “The New Twilight Zone,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “The Love Boat,” “Highway to Heaven,” “Apple’s Way,” “That Was the Week That Was,” and many episodes of the award-winning “Insight” anthology series. His Hallmark Hall of Fame special “The Littlest Angel” is regarded as a TV classic, as is his children’s series, “Tales of the Riverbank,” a much-loved British TV show. He also wrote the book, lyrics, music and produced “The Juggler of Notre Dame”, for which he won an Emmy. For many years, he was the Musical Director at NBC television.

O’Kun’s longest-running collaboration with performer-ventriloquist Shari Lewis lasted 44 years. O’Kun was Ms. Lewis’s brother-in-law, having married her younger sister, Barbara, in 1960. Their collaboration defined the popular puppets Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse, and Hush Puppy, and resulted in numerous Emmy, Peabody, and other awards. After Lewis’s passed in 1998, O’Kun continued to write and work with her daughter (his niece) Mallory Lewis. Through their efforts, Lamb Chop lives on.

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Other high-profile artists with whom O’Kun worked include Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Glen Campbell, Duke Ellington, and Peggy Lee, as well as the guests who appeared on various Shari Lewis shows, including Martin Sheen, Dom DeLuise, Ossie Davis, Jerry Orbach, Fred Gwynne, and others.

He wrote the Broadway musicals “Coming of Age” with lyricist Sammy Cahn, as well as the Broadway show “Pickwick.” Other endeavors include events and programming for the New York and Canadian World’s Fairs, the animated feature “Puss ‘n’ Boots,” and children’s books and videos in partnership with Shari Lewis.

In later years, he wrote and narrated audiobooks of short fantasy stories including “The Dragons of Broad  Swatch” and countless poems.  

O’Kun is survived by his wife of 60 years, Barbara O’Kun; niece Mallory Lewis; grand-nephew Jamie Hood; and a large extended family. The O’Kuns’ son, Shawn, predeceased his father in 2017.

Memorial plans have not been announced.


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