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Wednesday, January 24, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Jim Lewis, Sheriff Tex Of '50S TV

``Texas'' Jim Lewis, a former Western-swing star and host of one of the Northwest's first television children's shows, spent his last months ``broken-hearted'' over the June knifing death of his son, family members said.

Lewis died of colon cancer yesterday at Swedish Hospital. He was 80.

His son, Thomas Ben Lewis, 17, was stabbed in the back at his sister's wedding in the Shoreline area June 11. A Renton man has been charged in the killing, and the trial is expected to begin later this month.

The elder Lewis ``went downhill after that. He was broken-hearted. He never picked up his guitar again,'' said Lewis' wife of 27 years, Patricia. ``He wanted to make sure the person who killed his son paid for what he did. That's the last thing he wanted. But time just ran out.''

It was a grievous ending for a life full of merry-making and music.

Lewis was honored in 1985 by the Western Swing Society for devoting 55 years to the entertainment business, a career that included everything from vaudeville to performing in country-western bars and Hollywood movies.

Northwest residents would know him best for his 1950s KING-TV show, Sheriff Tex's Safety Junction, which featured puppets, rope tricks, old movies and advice to kids about safety. The series ran for about seven years.

On the show, he used to play a 70-pound musical contraption called a ``hootenanny'' that was said to look like ``a cross between a

supermarket pushcart and a fire engine.''

In the mid-1960s, Lewis made the news by suing ABC-TV for using the word ``hootenanny'' on the air. He sued on the grounds the word belonged to him. He lost. In 1963, he also lost an assault case after throwing a beer glass at a patron who reportedly was heckling him during a performance.

The son of an evangelist, Lewis grew up in the South and learned about show business by hanging around circuses and traveling shows. He eventually moved to Texas, where he started his own vaudeville act.

Years later, he put together a radio show that eventually was broadcast over the Mutual Radio Network from New York City.

During the 1930s, Lewis and his band performed with luminaries such as Jack Benny, Gene Autry and Red Skelton. His recordings included popular songs such as ``New San Antonio Rose,'' ``Squaws Along the Yukon'' and ``Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go?''

Lewis also appeared in more than 40 movies, including several ``Durango Kid'' Westerns with actor Charlie Starrett.

Family members said Lewis had suffered the effects of colon cancer for about 1 1/2 years.

``He was full of life. He loved to joke around,'' said daughter Letia Lewis-Norman of Seattle, who says her father maintained his sense of humor until the end.

``I got his nose, and he has a very big nose. He called it his pickle, and he would always tease me, saying that my pickle will someday be as big as his pickle. . . . He was the greatest.''

Patricia described him as extremely charitable and driven. ``He wanted to go on living,'' she says, adding that he drove his car just two days before he died. ``He was not the kind to be bedridden.''

Survivors, in addition to his wife and Lewis-Norman, include daughters Ginger and Cindy Lewis-Pomeroy, both of Seattle; and sons Danny, Jason and Calvin of Seattle, James of Phoenix and Gary of Detroit.

A memorial service is planned.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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