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Whatever Happened to Abbott & Costello?

Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, legendary comedy team.

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, legendary comedy team.

The Team

There have only been a handful legendary status comedy teams in Hollywood and there is only room for one team at a time. Laurel & Hardy were well into their retirement years and Martin & Lewis had not yet broke millions. Abbott & Costello were Universal Studios' gold mine for over 20 years, at the top of their game in the 1940s and early 50s. together they produced nearly 40 films and toured the world performing their immortal acts like "Who is on 1st?" But as the money began to drop and the public's interest begin to change, the team's relationship became strained.

It was never a match made in heaven for Abbott and Costello. The two men quarreled frequently throughout their team years. Costello demanded more money than Abbott, feeling that as the comedian he deserved more. Thanks to over exposure and the team's reluctance to create new material, tensions between them grew. By 1955, their contract with Universal was expiring. Unable to react an agreement that satisfied both men, they were officially dropped by the studio, signaling the end for the duo. The Internal Revenue Service came knocking a year later slapping both men with huge back tax levies. Both men had serious gambling problems throughout their lives and were now paying for it. The stress ripped them apart and the two split after it rendered them near bankruptcy.

Bud Abbott reading the headlining death of Lou Costello.

Bud Abbott reading the headlining death of Lou Costello.

Abbott After Costello.

The downward spiral for both began after Abbott and Costello split. Costello made only ten solo appearances performing much of the material the duo originally performed together. He would only make one movie by himself, The 30th Foot Bride of Candy Rock. Costello would sadly die of a heart attack in 1959 before the film was released. Despite the vicious break up of the two, Bud Abbott was heartbroken when told of Costello's death. He would never truly overcome his former partner's death.

He attempted to stage a come back in 1960 with Candy Candido as his comedic side kick. Reviews looked promising but it would be Abbott, himself, who would quit the act. "Nobody can ever measure up to Lou." He said sadly.

The intervening years were filled with financial hardship. Still struggling to repay the IRS, most of his assets and savings were whipped out. Hollywood had no room for a straight man without a comedy relief. Bud Abbott found himself getting the cold shoulder from an industry that made millions off of him just a decade earlier. A short lived animated series by Hannah-Barbera entitled The Abbott and Costello Cartoon Show did Abbott a chance to relive the glory years. Voicing himself from 1967 to 1968, alongside Stan Irwin who voiced Costello, it gave the struggling man a much needed infusion of cash. Unfortunately the financial stability did not last long as Abbott's health took a dive.

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Bud Abbott in the 1960s.

Bud Abbott in the 1960s.


$180 per month Social Security was all Bud Abbott earned by 1970. Over the next couple years, a series of strokes and a fall that broke his hip would confine the straight man to his bed. To cover his rising medical costs, his wife worked part time and each of his children contributed financially. The doctors diagnosed him with prostate cancer in 1972.

The National Inquirer ran an article about Bud Abbott's failing health and the public immediately responded in kindness. Thousands of fans and well wishers would send letters, cards, gifts and even money. A follow up interview by Bud Abbott's wife expressed overwhelming gratitude. It gave Bud Abbott a little happiness in the final days of his life. His final moments were spent wasting away in a hospital bed in his living room. Bud Abbott would pass away in 1974, broke and shattered.

Bud Abbott and the thousands of letters he would receive from fans in his final years.

Bud Abbott and the thousands of letters he would receive from fans in his final years.


Robert Sacchi on June 17, 2017:

Thank you. Yes, it was a sad ending for this immortal comic team. I loved watching their movies and TV show. I remember a documentary that explained the 60/40 split in favor of Abbott was a fair split because at the time their were more comics than there were straight men. As straight men go Abbott was among the best.

Fiddleman on June 16, 2017:

I grew up watching Abbott and Costello. I didn't know they had a conflict but money has ruined many in any and all orofessions. Great memories!

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