Richard Lewis: Parkinson’s Disease and Heart Attacks

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Richard Lewis was a stand-up comedian, actor and author of two self-deprecating books, and for 11 years he played a fictionalized version of himself in the hit HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

In 2021, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A year ago he retired from stand-up comedy, and on February 24. 2024, he died at age 76 from a heart attack associated with Parkinson’s disease.

His Childhood Left Permanent Scars
Lewis was the youngest of three children, and he grew up virtually as an only child since his brother was six years older than him and his sister was nine years older. His father was a caterer who worked all the time, so he was left at home with his mother who had lots of disagreements with him. Both siblings left home as soon as they were able. In school, Lewis was the class clown who was always in trouble.

As a stand-up comedian, he made fun of himself for needing frequent treatment from a psychiatrist for being:

  • anxious,
  • depressed,
  • addicted to drugs,
  • neurotic,
  • alcoholic,
  • hypochondriacal,
  • paranoic,
  • bipolar,
  • sexually dysfunctional,
  • Jewish, and
  • having an eating disorder.
    He often wore all-black clothes and would move and wave his hands frantically on stage. In real life, he was a recovered alcoholic and abuser of both cocaine and crystal meth. His drug addictions were so severe that he had to stop performing from 1991 to 1994. In 1994, he overcame his drug addiction after he almost died from a cocaine overdose. In 2000, he wrote a book called The Other Great Depression that described his emotional problems and drug addictions.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease affects nerves and often starts as a shaking of one hand, followed by stiffness and slowing of movement in any part of the body. The face may show little expression and the arms may not swing when walking. There is no cure, but medications often improve symptoms temporarily. Some cases run in families. Small clumps, called Lewy bodies, accumulate in the brains of people with this disease and they contain chemicals called Alpha-synuclein that may be the cause of the nerve damage. The disease usually starts after age 60. Some cases may be caused by herbicides or pesticides. Late in the disease, a person may suffer memory lapses, depression, falling asleep during the day, and difficulty staying asleep at night. Exercise can help to reduce risk for Parkinson’s disease (Neurology, July 25, 2023;101 (4):151-152) and may help to treat it (Cureus, 2018 Jul; 10(7): e2995).

Relationship between Parkinson’s Disease and Heart Problems
Heart problems are often associated with Parkinson’s disease (J Clin Neurosci, 2018;53:1–5) because the nerve damage of Parkinson’s disease is also associated with nerve damage in controlling heart rate and heart contractions (Biomed Rep, 2023 Mar; 18(3): 25). Furthermore, several medicines used to treat Parkinson’s disease, such as levodopa, dopamine agonists or anticholinergic agents, can cause abnormal heart contractions and heart rate (Parkinsonism Relat Disord, 2014;20:815–818). Aging, diabetes and being male are risk factors for both conditions. Both diseases are associated with an over-active immune system called inflammation, high blood sugar, insulin resistance and high blood pressure.

Living with Parkinson’s Disease
People with Parkinson’s disease should follow all the lifestyle rules for helping to prevent heart attacks as both conditions share the same associated risk factors. Heart disease is the most common cause of death in Parkinson’s disease patients.

  • lose weight if overweight
  • exercise
  • avoid smoking
  • do not take in alcohol regularly or excessively (no more than two drinks in a day – I recommend avoidance)
  • eat a healthful diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts and other seeds
  • avoid sugared drinks, sugar-added foods, red meat, processed meats and fried foods
  • keep hydroxy vitamin D levels above 30 ng/mL

Richard Lewis
June 29, 1947 – Feb 24, 2024