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Comedian Richard Lewis, nicknamed 'The Prince of Pain,' dies at 76

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Comedian Richard Lewis has died at the age of 76. He was a stand-up comic who gained fame as a TV regular and, later, as one of the stars of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." NPR's Neda Ulaby has our remembrance.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: As Larry David's good friend on the show, the two argued endlessly.

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(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM")

RICHARD LEWIS: (As Richard Lewis) I said, Muessolini (ph). You said Mussolini.

LARRY DAVID: (As Larry David) No, it's not Muessolini, like muesli. It's not...

LEWIS: (As Richard Lewis) No, it's like - me...

DAVID: (As Larry David) ...Like, a cereal.

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LEWIS: (As Richard Lewis) I compare...

ULABY: They argued over how to pronounce things. They argued over the check. They even argued over the death of Lewis' beloved pet parakeet.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM")

LEWIS: (As Richard Lewis) This is a tragedy, and you treated it like it was nothing to me.

DAVID: (As Larry David) No.

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LEWIS: (As Richard Lewis) How dare you?

DAVID: (As Larry David) I don't see it as a tragedy.

LEWIS: (As Richard Lewis) You don't? Why not? It's my bird.

DAVID: (As Larry David) If it was a parrot, it would be a tragedy.

LEWIS: (As Richard Lewis) Oh, really?

DAVID: (As Larry David) If it was some exotic bird from Brazil, like a macaw or a toucan.

LEWIS: (As Richard Lewis) I don't live in a Cuban dance hall.

ULABY: Richard Lewis got his start in stand-up the traditional way - by making fun of his Jewish mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "I'M IN PAIN")

LEWIS: She can throw guilt without moving her conscience - it's unbelievable - my mother.

(LAUGHTER)

ULABY: That's Lewis on his 1985 Showtime special, "I'm In Pain." He was a TV fixture for years, but the comedian struggled with drugs and alcohol. In 2001, he told The Todd Mundt Show from Michigan Radio he was too high to remember a Carnegie Hall performance with multiple standing ovations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LEWIS: I remember asking my sister, are you sure they stood up twice? Are you sure I was on stage almost three hours? I mean, I didn't even remember the show.

ULABY: Lewis sobered up in 1994, in part because of the death of his friend, comedian John Candy. Sobriety became central to his life. Before he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease a few years ago, he wrote several memoirs about how the Prince of Pain, as he called himself, had found peace. Lewis also found fans playing the evil Prince John in the Mel Brooks movie "Robin Hood: Men In Tights" and as himself on "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM")

DAVID: (As Larry David) I'm going to go.

LEWIS: (As Richard Lewis) I'm going to go, too.

DAVID: (As Larry David) I'm going this way.

LEWIS: (As Richard Lewis) No, no. I'm going this way.

DAVID: (As Larry David) No, you came from that way.

ULABY: In a statement on social media, Larry David said Richard Lewis was both the funniest person and also the sweetest. But today, he made me sob, he said. And for that, I'll never forgive him.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Neda Ulaby
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.