Comedian Richard Lewis's official cause of death has been confirmed. What to know about heart attacks and Parkinson's

The "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2021.

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BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 17:  Actor Richard Lewis arrives at the premiere of HBO's 'If You're Not In The Obit, Eat Breakfast' at Samuel Goldwyn Theater on May 17, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
Actor Richard Lewis has died at age 76. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

Richard Lewis, a stand-up comedian and actor best known for his role in "Curb Your Enthusiasm," died at his home in Los Angeles after suffering a heart attack on Feb. 27th. He was 76.

His wife, Joyce Lapinsky, took to X on Friday with a statement, thanking people for their "loving tributes" to Lewis. "He would be beyond thrilled and so touched, as am I, Lapinsky wrote, adding he would appreciate charity donations in his memory.

The Brooklyn-born comedian died from "cardiopulmonary arrest," according to his death certificate, obtained by The Blast, with Parkinson's disease named as a secondary cause of death.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 06: Actor/comedian Richard Lewis (L) and producer Joyce Lapinsky attend AFI's 41st Life Achievement Award Tribute to Mel Brooks at Dolby Theatre on June 6, 2013 in Hollywood, California. 23647_006_JK_0010.JPG  (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for AFI)
Late actor and comedian Richard Lewis was married to producer Joyce Lapinsky. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for AFI)

Lewis had been living with Parkinson's disease since 2021. He announced his retirement in April 2023 via a video message to fans.

Speaking in the clip, the comedian said he's had a "rocky time" with his health over the last three-and-a-half years, undergoing four "out of the blue" surgeries: Back surgery, shoulder surgery, shoulder replacement surgery and a hip replacement.

"It's bad luck, but it's life," the actor said. "On top of all of that, two years ago, I started walking a little stiffly, I was shuffling my feet, and I went to a neurologist and they gave me a brain scan and I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease," he said.

"Luckily, I got it late in life and they say you progress very slowly, if at all, and I'm on the right meds, so I'm cool."

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 06: Actor/comedian Richard Lewis and Larry David attend the 41st AFI Life Achievement Award Honoring Mel Brooks after party at Dolby Theatre on June 6, 2013 in Hollywood, California. Special Broadcast will air Saturday, June 15 at 9:00 P.M. ET/PT on TNT and Wednesday, July 24 on TCM as part of an All-Night Tribute to Brooks. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)
Richard Lewis, a stand-up comedian and actor best known for his role in "Curb Your Enthusiasm," has died.(Getty).

Like many incurable and progressive conditions, Parkinson's disease (PD) – a disorder of the brain and central nervous system that impacts movement and speech – may have small, subtle or vague symptoms at first.

Actor Michael J. Fox, one of the most well-known individuals living with the disease, said he was diagnosed after feeling a twitch in his left pinky finger at 29. In 2020, he was forced to quit acting due to his unreliable memory, speech and mobility.

With a new diagnosis every nine minutes, there are more than 10 million people worldwide living with the disease today. With cases rising exponentially during the pandemic, it's more important than ever to understand Parkinson's and its symptoms.

“There are many early warning signs of Parkinson’s to look out for,” Dr. Abdel Kaleel, a neurologist at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, Ont. told Yahoo Canada in a previous interview. “It’s important to contact your doctor straight away if you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of the disease, as a quick diagnosis is imperative.”

Read on to learn what these warning signs are, who is at risk, and how Parkinson's can affect the heart.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinsons disease nerve cells. Computer illustration of human nerve cells affected by Lewy bodies (small red spheres inside cytoplasm of neurons) in the brain of a patient with Parkinsons disease. Lewy bodies are abnormal accumulations of protein that develop inside nerve cells in Parkinsons disease, Lewy Body Dementia, and some other neurological disorders.
Parkinson's is a neurodegenerative disorder affecting more men than women. (Getty)

“Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder which impacts and decreases dopamine-producing neurons in the brain," Kaleel explains. "Symptoms typically develop over time. There are treatment options available such as physical therapy, mobility aids, surgery and medication.”

While the disease itself is not often fatal, complications from Parkinson’s can be very serious.

Parkinson's can lead to stiffness, shaking and difficulty with coordination, balance and walking. As it progresses, patients may have behavioural and mental changes, depression, problems sleeping and fatigue.

Both men and women can get Parkinson's, but the condition affects approximately 50 per cent more men than women. While there is currently no cure, all treatment options aim to improve symptoms while slowing the progression of the disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s?

Luckily, there are a plethora of signs and symptoms that can help determine if you have Parkinson's disease. The most common symptoms are tremors (in the hands, legs, jaw, mouth and legs), slowness of movement, stiff limbs and impaired coordination and balance.

Kaleel adds that “urinary problems, constipation, difficulty chewing or swallowing, sleep disruptions, or sudden changes in skin tone” are other signs of PD.

Symptoms and the rate of progression vary among individuals, which is why the disease can be difficult to accurately diagnose. Some people may dismiss these early warning signs as the normal effects of aging, but it’s important to contact your doctor to investigate any symptoms further.

How does Parkinson's affect the cardiovascular system?

Richard Lewis with Johnny Carson in 1991. (Image via Getty Images)
Richard Lewis with Johnny Carson in 1991. (Image via Getty Images)

While it's not known whether Lewis's heart attack was linked with his Parkinson's, Parkinson's can lead to dysautonomia. Dysautonomia occurs when the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which controls blood pressure and heart rate malfunctions. It can occur on its own, however there are conditions, like Parkinson's that can contribute to dysautonomia. Studies have shown that PD can lead to arterial hypertension and sudden cardiac death.

Who is at risk for developing Parkinson’s?

According to Kaleel, “risk factors in the progression and development of Parkinson’s include hereditary links, advancing age such as being over the age of 50 and being subjected to toxins. Males are also far more likely to get the disease than women are.”

Environmental factors also play a role in the development of PD, such as exposure to pesticides, herbicides and heavy metals, which can damage the part of the brain where dopamine is produced.

Additionally, individuals with a sibling or parent affected by Parkinson’s are approximately two to three times more likely to develop the disease.

“If you’re a boxer or athlete, or have experienced repeated concussions or blows to the head, you might be more at risk," Kaleel says. "But at this point, the research is too limited to be one hundred per cent sure."

How can I prevent Parkinson’s disease?

Richard Lewis (pictured in 2014) was 76 when he died of a heart attack. (Image via Getty Images)
Richard Lewis (pictured in 2014) was 76 when he died of a heart attack. (Image via Getty Images)

As there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s, proven ways to prevent the disease remains a mystery. However, scientists and doctors do know that aging, stress and inflammation can contribute to cell damage and abnormal dopamine levels in the brain.

One of the most critical things we can do for our long-term cognitive and physical health is to keep our stress levels down to reduce inflammation in the body.

Other research has shown that regular aerobic exercise and consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and Omega-3 fatty acids may have some benefit.

“Vitamins found in green tea, vegetables, fruits and dark, leafy greens can dramatically decrease inflammation and promote a healthy brain. Omega-3s found in wild-caught fish, eggs and walnuts are also known to do the same,” explains Kaleel. “I’d also eat organic and local produce when possible to reduce the amount of pesticides and herbicides found in your food.

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