Best foes, best friends: Richard Lewis, Larry David and the love between them

Richard Lewis and Larry David are photographed in John O'Groats diner in Los Angeles, CA on January 10, 2024.
In January, The Times photographed Richard Lewis and Larry David together at John O'Groats for an article about the final season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Lewis died Tuesday at 76. (Daniel Prakopcyk / For The Times)
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For the record:
6:19 p.m. Feb. 28, 2024: Richard Lewis said he would retire from stand-up, not acting, when he revealed his Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2023.

Richard Lewis’ shtick was both morose and personal.

The comedian, who died Tuesday at age 76, had stand-up specials with names like “I’m in Pain” and “I’m Exhausted,” and his memoir from 2000 is titled “The Other Great Depression.” He usually dressed in all black and would speak self-deprecatingly and candidly about relationships, therapy and addiction. He’s credited with coining the phrase “from hell” (as in “cat from hell” or “date from hell”) and his sets included a lot of ranting and yelling at no one in particular.

Read more: Richard Lewis, stand-up comic and 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' star, dies at 76

But when Lewis appeared on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” there was a focus to his ire: his lifelong friend, and the series’ star and creator, Larry David. From the first episode of the show, when Lewis’ version of himself screams at David’s heightened version of himself for not liking his girlfriend, the men are the bickering old marrieds that the show deserved.

In fact, even after Lewis announced in 2023 that he had Parkinson’s disease and would retire from stand-up, he still appeared in “Curb’s” final season. Fittingly, in the third episode, “Vertical Drop, Horizontal Tug,” which aired Feb. 18, they argued over David’s objection to Lewis making him the benefactor in his will. (HBO confirmed that he will appear in three more episodes.)

“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 released by HBO 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.”

The Times spoke with both Lewis and David ahead of the premiere of “Curb’s” final season, with the former promising that all of the bickering did come from a place of love.

Read more: 'Am I just being me or am I acting?' An oral history of HBO's 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'

“We have this profound affection for one another and respect for our craft,” Lewis said in the interview. “And we've always been there for one another. Some of my idiosyncratic things in my behavior that he picks up on — and he has ever since we were adolescents; he really has remembered most of the juicy ones and has put them into the show.”

Offscreen, David learned to choose his battles. When they were younger, Lewis said that David teased him about his penchant for black clothing, but that “now he totally accepts it.” However, Lewis added, “No matter where we are, if I say something that he thinks he's catched me in saying something idiotic or improperly, he'll nail me for it."

“We do try to catch each other all the time in real life,” Lewis said. “It’s some kind of game we play. I guess we're unusual best friends.”

Lewis said that the real and fictitious versions of themselves “sort of blurs.” He came home one day after shooting “Curb” and told his wife, Joyce Lapinsky, that he wasn’t sure what he’d filmed, but it involved yelling and hurling a chopstick at David. She responded, "Didn't you once [actually] throw a chopstick at him?”

Series executive producer and frequent director Jeff Schaffer told The Times ahead of “Curb’s” season premiere: “We have a lot of fun in scenes with Richard because, I think, there's literally no restrictions.”

And David noted, “Because we're such old friends, I can say anything I want to him and vice versa. So there's a certain freedom that comes with that. ... Anything I say to him on the show, I would say to him in life. I think I treat him worse in life.”

But Lewis also knew how to use this in his favor.

“If I'm going to say something hopefully funny but also serious, I don't stare directly into his eyes,” Lewis said. “Because if I do, he'll laugh.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.