Comedian Bud Abbott Died Nearly Broke After Scandal Over Unpaid Taxes

Just about every form of entertainment today can trace its roots back through the years and see how classic entertainers helped pave the way for today’s stars. Time and again, modern-day celebrities will pay homage to acts from the past as a way to acknowledge this thread of talent that has developed into contemporary entertainment.

The comedy world is definitely filled with these kinds of links. Comedians like Lucille Ball helped pave the way for stars like Tina Fey to shine today. Eddie Murphy’s stand-up is a direct antecedent to many of today’s stars in the genre.

Among these comedic greats are Abbott and Costello, a comedy duo that certainly inspired many of today’s stars. 

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were a famous comedy duo

William Alexander “Bud” Abbott and Lou Costello rose to fame with their comedic flair which they brought to the stage, onto the radio airwaves, and into films and television. The duo did some work together throughout the 1930s. Then, as Encyclopedia Britannica reports, they officially teamed up in 1936. 

They polished their shtick on the burlesque circuit at a time when their particular flavor of quick-talking exchanges and slapstick was rising in popularity. While they had each done many of their skits with former partners, it wasn’t until they perfected them together that they really gained fame. 

Bud Abbott played the bully in their exchanges

During their time as a comedic pair, Abbott and Costello had fairly solidified roles to play. As Encyclopedia Britannica puts it, “Abbott was something of a bully and a schemer, and Costello played the hapless childlike patsy who was known for catchphrases such as ‘I’m a ba-a-a-a-d boy!’”

Together, the duo made several films and their famous “Who’s On First?” skit lives on as a shining example of linguistic wit. They’re also credited with helping to preserve the tradition of vaudeville and burlesque as entertainment made the leap into film. 

While today their humor may be seen as fairly old-fashioned and tame, they managed to make quite a splash in their own day. In fact, both men were heavily investigated by the FBI.  

Abbott was investigated on charges of pornography while Costello was turned in by an informant for having an extensive collection of obscene films. Despite these scandalous charges and some others involving mob connections, the men escaped charges for these suspected crimes and went on to continue their successful comedy career. 

Bud Abbott ran into a tax scandal

One legal situation that didn’t clean up so neatly was Abbott’s trouble with taxes. As The Los Angeles Times reports, Abbott planned to retire to become a horse rancher. Costello decided he would continue on in a solo career rather than take on a different partner.

Unfortunately, Costello died just a few years later in 1959 following hospitalization after an unexpected collapse. He was only 52 years old and was buried near the toddler son he tragically lost in a swimming pool accident in 1943. 

Despite being the older of the pair — Abbott was born in 1895 while Costello was born in 1906 — Abbott outlived his partner by several years. He died of cancer in 1974.

While his comedic legacy lives on to this day, he unfortunately did not get to enjoy the spoils of his riches. He had gotten tied up in an IRS dispute and sold almost all of his assets while trying to settle the charges. One of entertainment’s most memorable and recognizable stars died virtually penniless due to the taxation scandal — a tragic mistake that has caught up to many stars since.

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