Tearing at his hair and describing almost everything as the event or person "from hell," comedian Richard Lewis turned his overriding angst and neuroses into a successful comic persona that served him in standup and in many television appearances. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1947, and later moving to Englewood, New Jersey, he became lifelong friends with Larry David at summer camp. When he realized he was overserved in life, he wrote a memoir about getting sober. And after a successful series and sold-out standup concerts, he reunited with his childhood friend on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Richard Philip Lewis was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 29, 1947, and promptly plunked onto a "touristy" blanket his grandparents bought at a World's Fair. This, he says, is about when his incessant whining started and pretty much never stopped. The family moved to Englewood, New Jersey, where his father, who worked as a caterer, had a love of baseball and the air of William Holden, Lewis said. He describes his "cool-looking" older brother as "Wally to my Beav." His mother, Blanche, had been an actress. His sister Janet, the eldest sibling, is 11 years older than Richard.
When Lewis was at summer camp at age 12, he reportedly met Larry David, and although it wasn't "like" at first sight, it formed the basis for what would become not only a lifelong friendship but also a working relationship on Curb Your Enthusiasm. He also developed a lifelong love of Buster Keaton and his genius.
Lewis went on to study marketing and communications at Ohio State University, a time he describes as one of the happiest of his life because he felt seen and heard, and like he had his own identity—things he did not feel at home.
Lewis was working as librarian in the archives of the Museum of Modern Art when his brother called to tell him his father had died. His father's charismatic presence had loomed large in his life, and his death was a devastating blow.
Lewis finally decided to pursue his own career as a comic after writing ad copy and comedic material for other comics. His first break—aside from a fluke appearance on Candid Camera when he was 17—was at New York's Improvisation comedy club in 1971. His successful appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1974 led to more television work, including regular appearances on The Sonny and Cher Show. His angst-ridden persona, which included pacing, tearing at his hair and dressing all in black, earned him the nickname The Prince of Pain.
In fact, Lewis's first cable special for Showtime was titled I'm in Pain. He had worked up to it with stints on Saturday Night Live, tours and numerous television appearances, and the special earned him a sold-out solo comic concert at Carnegie Hall and headliner status in a series with Jamie Lee Curtis, called Anything But Love.
In addition to TV, Lewis has turned in some memorable film roles, such as Prince John in Mel Brooks's Robin Hood: Men in Tights. He has also racked up an array of accolades and awards, and a tight-knit group of comic buddies including David Brenner, Robert Klein, Richard Belzer and Albert Brooks.
His mercurial, high-speed comedic riffs have earned him comparisons to jazz musicians. A Chicago Tribune article noted: "Audiences who have seen Lewis on HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm or in clubs for the past 40-odd years understandably view him as a human quip machine and a maniacal monologist, but there's music deep inside his work, as well. If you listen closely, it's clear that Lewis, like Lenny Bruce before him, brings to the art of comedy the impetuousness and element of surprise that are at the heart of jazz."
Richard Lewis married his "soulmate," Joyce Lapinsky, whom he nicknamed "Gina Lolamatzobrei," in January 2005, but they had been together for many years. He had taken her to meet his therapist after they had been dating for seven years, confessing he had "no confidence in my ability to select a mate." His therapist basically threw cold water in his face.
But that wasn't the only sobering experience he had. In 2000, Lewis published The OTHER Great Depression, his memoir about his misery and the drug and alcohol addiction that had developed out of that. In the book, he chronicles his struggles with stopping drinking and the journey of sobriety: "... as full of tears and obsessions as I am, the one thing I'm most proud of is that I am no longer ruled by alcohol." And he's still funny.
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