Comedian Lou Costello’s Heartbreaking Death at Age 52

Some actors’ names live on well past their owners. The names Lou Costello and Bud Abbott are still alive and kicking, despite the fact that both men have long since died. Famously known as the duo Abbott and Costello, the two made it big in the 1930s. Costello tragically died in 1959, and Abbott followed him in 1974. But their legacy lives on in pop culture today. Their most famous bit, “Who’s on First?” pops up in sitcoms, and their very names are famous. 

Lou Costello lying on the grass, shouting, head turned up to the right
Lou Costello | Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images

Lou Costello and Bud Abbott are cultural icons 

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In the 2016 movie Arrivallinguist Louise attempts to communicate with alien visitors. The names she and other researchers give to these visitors are Abbott and Costello. Almost 50 years after Costello’s death, and a full 80 years after Abbott and Costello first made it big, they’re still here. Their names are so well known that writers can drop them into sitcoms, podcasts, and movies without a second thought. People still know who they are. 

According to Esquire, by the 1940s, Abbott and Costello had solidified their place in the ethos of American pop culture. They were famous, and most of their most lasting material had been recorded. The pair raised money for the troops during World War II, along with other celebrities of the day. The dynamic duo split in 1957 after the IRS came after them for back taxes. But really, the tax issue was just the final nail in the coffin. Costello never recovered from a devastating personal tragedy in 1943, and his health and career were basically at the end of their downward spiral by the time the government came for their money. 

Lou Costello was never the same after a devastating personal tragedy 

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In 1943, Costello’s son also named Lou Costello, tragically drowned in the family pool. Costello’s wife left the baby outside in a playpen, but the newly mobile one-year-old escaped while she wasn’t looking. By the time she found him in the pool, it was too late. Costello was likely in shock after his son’s death. He was preparing for a show when he got the news, and still went on and performed with Abbott. While some see this as a hallmark of his devastation, it’s likely he hadn’t fully accepted his son’s death at the time. 

Costello’s career would last another 15 years, but his son’s death likely marked the beginning of a very long end. Although Abbott and Costello continued to perform, Costello’s health suffered immensely. The pair may have been funny on screen, but things were not well between them. They fought over money. Although both men felt that they deserved a bigger cut, the IRS would have the last word. 

Comedian Lou Costello died at age 52

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In 1957, the IRS essentially bankrupted Abbott and Costello. They could have continued performing together despite their tax troubles. In fact, keeping the act going may have been a great way to make back some money. Their ultimate split likely had less to do with taxes and more to do with their declining relationship. Costello was unwell and died just two years later. He died of heart problems in 1959. 

Abbott wasn’t done, however. He continued performing for two decades after he and Costello split, although he would never find the same success with another partner. Abbott died in 1974. Abbott and Costello reportedly hated each other by the end of their lives, yet their names are inextricably linked forever in American cultural history. They lived parallel lives, yet Costello seemed plagued by tragedy, including his early death. Abbott may have lived a relatively tragedy-free life comparatively, but he was nothing without Costello.