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Richard Lewis, stand-up comic and 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' star, dies at 76

Nardine Saad and Alexandra Del Rosario, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES — Comedian Richard Lewis built a career on making himself a punchline, but in HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” sincerity was his specialty.

As a fictionalized version of himself, Lewis often injected the long-running cynical comedy with wholesome lines about the decadeslong friendship he shared with co-star Larry David. “When I die, I want you to know how much I care about you,” Lewis tells David in a minor squabble about his will during the show’s final season. “You’re my best friend.”

For more than 20 years, Lewis — often appearing in his signature dark clothing and round sunglasses — channeled his bond with David and his self-deprecating humor to become a beloved fixture on the comedy classic. Lewis died Tuesday “peacefully at his home in Los Angeles.” He was 76.

Lewis’ publicist Jeff Abraham confirmed to The Times that the comedian died after suffering a heart attack. “His wife, Joyce Lapinsky, thanks everyone for all the love, friendship and support and asks for privacy at this time,” Abraham said.

HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is just a part of Lewis’ legacy, which included a stand-up comedy career spanning decades, a memoir about his sobriety and appearances in Mel Brooks’ “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and “Leaving Las Vegas.”

In April 2023, Lewis detailed his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, which derailed his decadeslong stand-up comedy career. “After 50 years almost, I’m gonna just call it quits,” he said at the time.

“R.I.P. to a true original @TheRichardLewis,” comedian Bill Burr wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “An absolutely fearless comedian who did and said what he wanted.”

“His comedic brilliance, wit and talent were unmatched,” HBO said in a statement shared with Variety. “Richard will always be a cherished member of the HBO and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ families, our heartfelt condolences go out to his family, friends and all the fans who could count on Richard to brighten their days with laughter.”

Lewis began his career in his 20s performing at New York’s Improv and was taken under the wing of David Brenner, who was known as the king of observational comedy. He found his footing in dark comedy, bringing his struggles with alcoholism, drug addiction and his broken family to the stage.

“It’s great to be here, it’s great to be in a city that means more to me than my family, quite frankly,” he said to welcome audiences during a set in 1990.

Aptly known as the “Prince of Pain,” Lewis wasn’t shy about letting audiences know about his afflictions. His TV specials played into this persona, including “I’m Doomed,” “I’m In Pain” and “I’m Exhausted,” preceding his days on “Curb.”

Lewis gained popularity following appearances on several shows including “Late Night with David Letterman” and “The Howard Stern Show” in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Before he was on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in 2000, Lewis appeared as a fictionalized version of himself in “Diary of a Young Comic,” a TV movie about the L.A. comedy scene, and films “That’s Adequate,” “Once Upon a Crime...” and “Game Day.”

In “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Lewis is a loyal friend to David, constantly going along with his petty grievances against those around him. However, in real life, that friendship took time. Lewis and David first met as preteens in a childhood sports camp, Lewis said in a 2023 interview with the Spectator. “I disliked him intensely. He was cocky, he was arrogant,” he said.

“We were arch rivals. I couldn’t wait for the camp to be over just to get away from Larry. I’m sure he felt the same way,” he said.

Reconnecting in the New York comedy scene years later, Lewis and David gave friendship another shot — paving the way for decades of on-screen bickering and memorable exchanges.

 

“Richard and I were born three days apart in the same hospital and for most of my life he’s been like a brother to me,” David said in a statement shared with the Associated Press. “He had that rare combination of being the funniest person and also the sweetest. But today he made me sob and for that I’ll never forgive him.”

Lewis also appeared in 2012’s “Vamps” and 2014’s “She’s Funny That Way,” as well as the TV series “Anything But Love,” “Daddy Dearest,” “Hiller and Diller,” “7th Heaven,” “’Til Death” and “Blunt Talk.”

“I went into this for psychological reasons,” Lewis told The Times in 2014. “My family — it wasn’t an abusive family — they meant well, but they were in their own world.”

Lewis grew up in New York and his father died at a young age. He said he felt isolated by his mother and disconnected from his two siblings: His sister had four children before Lewis turned 19. He also had a brother, whom he said “was off in the Village reading ‘Howl’ on the street corners.”

He began his stand-up career after graduating from Ohio State University in 1969. He entered the comedy circuit around the same time that Jay Leno, Freddie Prinze and Billy Crystal did.

“I was 23, and all sorts of people were coming in and out and watching me, like Steve Allen and Bette Midler. David Brenner certainly took me under his wing. To drive home to my little dump in New Jersey often knowing that Steve Allen said, ‘You got it,’ that validation kept me going in a big, big way,” Lewis said.

As he wrote in “The Other Great Depression: How I’m Overcoming, on a Daily Basis, at Least a Million Addictions and Dysfunctions and Finding a Spiritual (Sometimes) Life,” Lewis was 44 when he was hospitalized after suffering from a lethal mix of alcohol and drugs. He decided to get sober in 1995, which according to his biography, he was “especially grateful for.”

In 2015, he published his second book, “Reflections from Hell: Richard Lewis’ Guide On How Not To Live,” with his longtime friend, artist Carl Nicholas Titolo, who provided the illustrations.

Stars including “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, Albert Brooks and Jamie Lee Curtis, comedian Paul Feig and “Curb” co-star Ben Stiller paid tribute to Lewis, remembering his contributions to the comedy scene.

“RIP Richard Lewis. A brilliantly funny man who will missed by all. The world needed him now more than ever,” wrote“Curb” co-star Brooks.

“Sleep well Richard…I’ll try to take good care of our face,” celebrity lookalike Stewart tweeted.

Curtis, who led the TV series “Anything but Love” with Lewis, shared two tributes on Instagram, remembering the “deep and freaking funny comedian.”

“He also is the reason I am sober. He helped me. I am forever grateful for him for the act of grace alone,” she wrote. “He found love with Joyce and that, of course, besides his sobriety, is what mattered most to him. I’m weeping as I write this.”

“I never met a kinder, more empathetic comedy genius. He was so funny. And deep,” tweeted actor-director Ben Stiller, who said Lewis was a friend to him and his parents, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. “As a kid i remember seeing him at the Improv and how nice he was to me and my sister. Over the years he would always reach out with support and love or a kind word - sometimes out of the blue. It always felt special to hear from him. I feel very lucky to have known him over all these years. I’m sad I won’t see him again.”


©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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