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In memoriam: Reasons to love Richard Lewis, and why he loved Chicago

Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

CHICAGO — You have, no doubt, been made aware of the death of Richard Lewis.

The 76-year-old Brooklyn-born comic/actor/writer died Feb. 27 of a heart attack in his Los Angeles home. Almost immediately, remembrances from friends and fans created an internet avalanche and formal obituaries charted the course and provided the details of his distinctively prolific career.

Many knew Lewis primarily from his work on the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which made him a hit with a new generation and is the creation of his lifelong friend Larry David. Lifelong? Well, they were born at the same hospital, days apart, and a few years later became buddies when attending the same summer camp.

I am a fan of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” as I was the sadly short-lived “Anything But Love,” an ABC sitcom of the late 1980s and early '90s in which Lewis co-starred with Jamie Lee Curtis — and Chicago stage actress Holly Fulger — as a pair of writers for a fictional Chicago magazine.

But I was also thrown back in memory to a March night in 1984 at Zanies, the Old Town comedy club, where he made his first Chicago appearance. Also in the audience was my former Tribune colleague and friend Howard Reich, who told me on Thursday, “I last communicated with Richard just a couple of days ago, so his death is as much a shock to me as to the millions who similarly revered him.”

And there were millions too, fans of his stand-up career, a couple of books, innumerable appearances on late night talk shows, HBO specials, and his work in such movies as “Leaving Las Vegas.”

 

As Reich remembers, “The first time I reviewed him was that March 1984 night at Zanies. I was overwhelmed by his verbal brilliance and by his sheer profusion of comic scenarios. I’d never witnessed such an avalanche of humor so virtuosically delivered.”

Reich has not forgotten that night and many others. There are few writers who kept in closer touch with Lewis than did Reich. Over the decades, in reviews and lengthy interviews, he was able to insightfully capture the comic.

As he once wrote, Lewis was “the most dexterous emerging wordsmith in American comedy. More confessional than Woody Allen, more world-weary than Rodney Dangerfield, more maniacal than Lenny Bruce, Lewis dared to tell his audience secrets that most folks wouldn’t share with their shrinks.”

In my own interviews with Lewis, he long ago told me, “Chicago has been historically the nicest, most receptive city in the country for me. Basically, it’s the nightmares of Steve (Dahl) and Garry (Meier). … Really, I love those guys, love their show. I love every facet of the town.”

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