Richard Lewis and Larry David, Best Frenemies Forever

Richard Lewis and Larry David, Best Frenemies Forever

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The two comics were born three days apart in the same Brooklyn hospital, and their paths never stopped crossing. They became the best of friends — in their own way.

If ever a Hollywood friendship was destined to be, it might have been the one between the comics Larry David and Richard Lewis, who died from a heart attack on Tuesday at 76. They were born just three days apart in 1947 at the same Brooklyn hospital. When they were 12, they met at summer sports camp, and instantly detested each other. That would set the tone that would define their friendship — and their onscreen relationship — for the rest of their lives.

“I disliked him intensely,” Lewis told The Spectator last year, calling the young David cocky and arrogant. “When we played baseball, I tried to hit him with the ball. We were archrivals. I couldn’t wait for the camp to be over just to get away from Larry. I’m sure he felt the same way.” (He did. “We hated each other,” David said during a 2002 interview.)

About a decade or so later, they found themselves performing at the same New York comedy club — both honing their similar brand of neurotic humor — but didn’t recognize one another at first. Later that same night, something clicked inside Lewis: “I looked at his face, and I said, ‘There’s something about you, man, that spooks me.’” With that, their memories were jogged.

“We became instant best friends,” David said of Lewis during that 2002 interview, at the Paley Center for Media. In 2010, talking with Howard Stern, Lewis said, “When I became a comic, he loved my work, and I loved his work.”

“For most of my life, he’s been like a brother to me,” David said of Lewis in a statement on Wednesday, shared by HBO. “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.”

David was not available for questions on Thursday morning.

Last month, Lewis spoke to The Times’s Melena Ryzik about those early days. “Without sounding too pompous about it, I always dug comedians who were the same onstage as they were offstage,” Lewis said, referring to David. “There wasn’t too much fake stuff going on, they didn’t create a character, they were just who they were.”

David is “the storyteller of my generation,” Lewis went on, comparing the “Seinfeld” co-creator to Norman Lear.

The duo bottled their early frenemy energy and comedic drive to brilliant effect on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” David’s long-running HBO comedy series, in which they both play exaggerated versions of themselves — perfecting the art of petty bickering and incessant fighting over the most minor of issues, like the alleged theft of an outgoing answering machine message. Lewis has appeared in about 40 episodes, including in its current season, the show’s 12th and last.

“Our relationship in life is very much, I would say almost exactly what it is in life as what it is on the show,” David said in the Paley Center interview. “We scream at each other. We fight all the time, but we have a lot of fun. We have a great time. It’s a great friendship. I love him.”

A few weeks ago, in an interview with Vanity Fair, Lewis — who announced last year that he had Parkinson’s disease and would retire from stand-up — spoke warmly about how the show had continued to solidify their bond. “I can’t tell you how loving he is, the best friend you could ever imagine,” Lewis said. “The show gives me another vehicle to express my feelings to Larry, because we are the oldest of friends.”

Over the years, Lewis has told stories of their friendship that could have easily been plotlines on “Curb.”

“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,” Lewis told The Los Angeles Times last month.

A constant in life and on “Curb” is that the pair fight over the check when they’re out to eat. “I always get there early and give the restaurant my credit card,” Lewis told The Washington Post in 2020, recalling a particularly “Curb”-like instance. “We placed our order. Been there just five or six minutes, and Larry realizes he has a poker game at Steve Martin’s and leaves. And I’m eating alone, stuck with a $400 check.”

And in 2017, Lewis told the radio host Rich Eisen about the time he gave David a birthday gift of Yankees memorabilia including “rare Mickey Mantle cuff links,” along with a personal letter about how much David meant to him. He left the table so David could read it alone — “too much love,” Lewis said. When he returned, David was halfway out the door because his parking meter was running out. “When you have that kind of money, and his meter’s running out — the guy should be institutionalized,” Lewis said jokingly. “And I’m allegedly one of his best friends. The whole thing sucks.”

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