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Home / Arts / Legendary comedian, Richard Lewis passes away suddenly at 76

Legendary comedian, Richard Lewis passes away suddenly at 76


Despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s just a few years earlier, Richard Lewis’s sudden death from a heart attack last night (February 27) caught everyone by surprise. Larry David, star of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and a longtime friend of Lewis, is mourning the loss of his dear friend. “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. “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.”

Brooklyn born, New Jersey raised

Born on June 29, 1947, in Brooklyn, Richard Lewis was raised in Englewood, New Jersey, within a Jewish family, although he did not adhere strictly to religious practices. His father, Bill, co-owned Ambassador Caterers in nearby Teaneck, while his mother, Blanche, pursued acting in community theater. As the youngest of three siblings, with his brother six years his senior and his sister nine years older, Lewis found himself frequently at odds with his mother, especially after his siblings left home during the 1960s, leaving him in her sole company. Reflecting on his upbringing, Lewis once shared with The Washington Post in 2014 that he often felt his existence had been an unintended error.

Throughout his schooling, Lewis gained notoriety as the class clown, often finding himself in trouble. He graduated from Dwight Morrow High School in 1965 before pursuing a marketing degree at Ohio State University.

Stand-up Comedy in NYC

In 1971, Lewis dipped his toes into the world of stand-up comedy, performing at an open mic night in Greenwich Village. By 1972, he was fully immersed in the comedy scene, balancing his passion for humor with a day job as a copywriter at an advertising agency. During this time, comedian David Brenner discovered Lewis’s talent while performing in Greenwich Village

The Tonight Show

With Brenner’s guidance, Lewis ventured into the comedy clubs of Los Angeles. By the mid-1970s, Lewis had already graced the stage of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, earning recognition from prominent publications like the New York Daily News and New York Magazine. He was celebrated as part of the “new breed” or “class” of comedians, alongside luminaries such as Robert Klein, Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Andy Kaufman, Richard Belzer, and Elayne Boosler. Among Lewis’s influences were comedic icons like Buster Keaton, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, and Richard Pryor.

Diary of A Young Comic

Lewis made his TV debut with “Diary of a Young Comic,” a 90-minute movie that replaced “Saturday Night Live” on NBC in 1979 but rose to prominence with his continued late-night appearances during the ’80s and ’90s.


He became a veritable rock star of the comedy world in those decades, starring in multiple stand-up specials on Showtime and HBO, while making high-profile appearances on specials such as the Comic Relief charitable fundraisers..

Anything But Love

He also showcased his acting chops by starring alongside Jamie Lee Curtis in the sitcom “Anything but Love,” which aired from 1988 to 1992. 

In an Instagram tribute to Lewis, Curtis reminisced about his audition, recalling how he outshone everyone else with his comedic prowess. She fondly remembered how his mispronunciation of the word “Bundt cake” prompted her to burst into laughter, sealing his fate for the role.

Reflecting on his talent, Curtis praised Lewis as a remarkable actor, noting his ability to portray characters with depth while infusing them with his trademark humor. She shared a touching anecdote about Lewis’s last text message to her, in which he endeavored to persuade executives at ABC and Disney to release another boxed set of episodes of their show.

Expressing her gratitude, Curtis revealed that Lewis played a significant role in her journey to sobriety, describing his support as an act of grace that she would forever cherish. With tears in her eyes, she bid farewell to the sweet and funny man, wishing him eternal laughter in his rest.

He helped me. I am forever grateful for him for that act of grace alone,” she said. “I’m weeping as I write this. Strange way of saying thank you to a sweet and funny man. Rest in laughter, Richard.”

The Palm Beach Post

“I make a conscious effort not to be mean-spirited,” Lewis explained in an interview with The Palm Beach Post in 2007. “I avoid targeting real handicaps that people must overcome without hope in sight. That’s not funny to me. While tragedy may serve as fodder for some comedians, it doesn’t resonate with me unless there’s a meaningful point to be made.”

Larry David & Richard

In 2000, Lewis became a staple on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” playing a dramatized version of himself in the same vein as star and creator Larry David.


The show, airing now in what David claims to be the final season, features Lewis as his same curmudgeonly character who often hits the golf course with David. A season five storyline even featured David donating a kidney to Lewis.

David and Lewis go way back. The pair were born days apart at a Brooklyn hospital, but officially met for the first time at a summer camp when they were 12.

Lewis has said he and David hated each other as teens but reconciled when meeting as adults in the New York comedy scene.

Arch rivals

“We were arch-rivals as teenagers at a summer sports camp. Our issues started at birth,” Lewis told New Jersey Monthly in a 2015 interview. “I’m convinced that Larry tried to strangle me with my mother’s umbilical cord.”

Lewis went on to say that he was a good athlete at camp, while “Larry was a gangly, obnoxious asshole.”

“I hated him,” Lewis said in 2015. “We became friendly years later as young comics in New York, but I noticed something one night. ‘There’s something about you I hate,’ I told him. ‘Wait, you’re that Larry David from summer camp.’ And he said, ‘You’re that Richard Lewis.’ We nearly came to blows.”


In 1998, Lewis crossed paths with Joyce Lapinsky at a Ringo Starr album release party, where Lapinsky was involved in music publishing. Their encounter led to an engagement in 2004 and marriage the following year.

Throughout his career, Lewis openly discussed his battles with anxiety, depression, and body dysmorphia, which often became comedic fodder in his routines. Additionally, he candidly addressed his struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, revealing his history with cocaine and crystal methamphetamine. These addictions reached a peak in the 1990s, prompting Lewis to take a hiatus from stand-up comedy from 1991 to 1994. The death of his colleague John Candy in 1994 served as a wake-up call, leading Lewis to reassess his own life and ultimately seek sobriety. He achieved sobriety in 1994 after a near-fatal cocaine overdose that landed him in the hospital emergency room.

The Great Depression

In 2000, Lewis penned his memoir, “The Other Great Depression,” delving into his experiences with addiction and mental health struggles. The book was later reissued in 2008, featuring an additional afterword where Lewis reflected on his ongoing battle with addiction. In 2015, he released “Reflections From Hell: Richard Lewis’ Guide on How Not to Live,” a collection of comedic commentary and observations interspersed with illustrations by artist Carl Nicholas Titolo.

“Looking back on it now, as a full-blown, middle-aged, functioning anxiety collector, I can admit without cringing that my parents had their fair share of tremendous qualities, yet, being human much of the day, had more than just a handful of flaws as well,” he wrote in his memoir.

Twitter Reactions

HBO was also saddened by his passing. The entertainment company tweeted, “We are heartbroken to learn that Richard Lewis has passed away. His comedic brilliance, wit and talent were unmatched. 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…”

Cheryl Hines, who plays Larry’s ex-wife on Curb tweeted, “He would take time to tell the people he loved what they meant to him. 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. I love you Richard. You will be missed. 

Albert Brooks was also saddned by his friend’s untimely deat  tweeted,RIP Richard Lewis. A brilliantly funny man who will missed by all. The world needed him now more than ever.”

Paul Feig tweeted, “Absolutely devastated by this news. Richard was my hero when I was a standup. I was lucky enough to get to know him and he was the most wonderful man. So supportive and kind and truly one of the funniest people on the planet. You will be missed, my friend.”

Ellen Barkin tweeted, “Richard Lewis was a wonderful man. Kind sensitive and generous. We have lost another hero. Rest In Peace Richard.”

Robert B Weide tweeted, “1984. 2004. 2023. Reeling from the news. The suddenness of it. I love you, Pal. Always have. Always will.

The 80’s & 90’s

During the 1980s and 1990s, Lewis significantly expanded his audience through numerous talk show appearances, including iconic programs like The Tonight Show, Late Night with David Letterman, and The Howard Stern Show. His comedic prowess was showcased in a series of acclaimed comedy specials, including “I’m in Pain” on Showtime in 1985, followed by “I’m Exhausted,” “I’m Doomed,” and “Richard Lewis: The Magical Misery Tour” on HBO in 1988, 1990, and 1997 respectively. From 1989 to 1992. Additionally, Lewis took on roles in several short-lived sitcoms, including “Daddy Dearest” with Don Rickles in 1993 and “Hiller and Diller” with Kevin Nealon in 1998. His film credits include portraying Prince John in the 1993 movie “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and starring as a struggling alcoholic and drug addict in the 1995 drama “Drunks.” Lewis also appeared in notable films such as “Leaving Las Vegas” in 1995 and “Hugo Pool” in 1997.

The 2000’s

In the 2000s, Lewis continued to showcase his talent with recurring roles in various television series. He portrayed a B-movie producer on the sitcom “Rude Awakening” and assumed the character of Rabbi Richard Glass on the family drama series “7th Heaven.” However, one of his most notable roles during this period was his recurring portrayal of himself on the sitcom “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” In this semi-autobiographical role, Lewis became a fixture on the show.

Most Influential Humorists

Comedy Central named Lewis one of the top 50 stand-up comedians of all time and he earned a berth in GQ magazine’s list of the “20th Century’s Most Influential Humorists.” 

photo by Allin Lewis – CC BY-SA 4.0, wikicommons

by Myles Shane

Other articles from totimes.ca – otttimes.ca – mtltimes.ca   

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