Richard Lewis, comedian and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star, dies at age 76

Richard Lewis, the actor and comedian known for his long-running stand-up career and recurring role on the hit HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” has died at 76, his publicist announced Wednesday.

The cause of death was a heart attack, the publicist, Jeff Abraham, said.

Richard Lewis
Comedian and actor Richard Lewis at his home in Los Angeles on February 20, 2020.

Emily Berl for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Lewis was a fixture of the comedy club circuit for decades, and his angsty, tortured act led to many TV and film roles. After appearing on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” he rose to prominence on the sitcom “Anything but Love” with Jamie Lee Curtis. He also starred in the movie “Drunks” and played Prince John in the 1993 adventure comedy film “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.”

Lewis had been playing a semi-fictionalized version of himself throughout the 24 years of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Lewis — who had known the show’s creator, Larry David, since they met at summer camp at age 12 — was a perfectly irksome foil to the already curmudgeonly protagonist.

“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 on Wednesday. “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.”

In April of last year, Lewis announced he was retiring from stand-up and revealed he had Parkinson’s disease, which he had been diagnosed with two years ago, he said in a video posted on social media.  

“His wife, Joyce Lapinsky, thanks everyone for all the love, friendship and support and asks for privacy at this time,” Abraham said in a statement. 

Born in New York, Lewis studied, and often drew comparisons to, Lenny Bruce for his riffing, neurotic crowd work. In his many comedy specials, “The Prince of Pain,” as Lewis was known, was often at the receiving end of the punchline.

“The key ingredient to his humor is his honesty. Richard has a bad relationship with himself — most comedians do — but he can express it,” David told The Washington Post in a profile of Lewis published in 2020.

Lewis also published two books, “The Other Great Depression,” a memoir in which he opened up about his struggles with fame and drug and alcohol use, and “Reflections from Hell,” a book that used artistic illustrations to capture Lewis’s dark comedic “premises.”

“We are heartbroken to learn that Richard Lewis has passed away. His comedic brilliance, wit and talent were unmatched,” HBO said in a statement. “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’ “Curb Your Enthusiasm” co-star Cheryl Hines, who plays David’s ex-wife, said in a statement that working with Lewis was “a dream come true.”

“Through the years I learned who Richard really was and the gifts he gave,” Hines said. “Yes, he was the comedian I fell in love with, but he was also one of the most loving people I know. He would take time to tell the people he loved what they meant to him —especially in recent years. In between takes on Curb, he would tell me how special I was to him and how much he loved me. To be loved by Richard Lewis. A true gift.”

Music legend Ringo Starr posted a message on social media sending his love to Lewis’s wife. “God bless Richard Lewis. We will all miss you, man. Love to Joyce. Peace and love,” Starr wrote. In a 2009 interview, Lewis said he met his wife through the former Beatles drummer.

“You don’t call him Ringo if you know him, you call him Richard or he’ll come after you with a pitchfork,” Lewis clarified.

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