Remembering Legendary New Jersey Comedian Lou Costello
It was on March 3, 1959, that legendary New Jersey comedian Lou Costello died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was only 52. He had risen to prominence as half of the successful comedy duo Abbott and Costello.
Costello was born as Louis Francis Cristillo in Paterson in 1906 and grew up there. In his twenties, he hitchhiked out to California to become an actor but did not find immediate success. He bounced around for several years. According to the Los Angeles Times, he worked jobs ranging from a newsboy, soda fountain clerk and salesman to a movie stunt man, before finally hitting the road to perform as a comedian in burlesque shows.
He was doing that when he met Bud Abbott and they began performing together regularly in 1936, starting a long, lucrative partnership. The first hit it big on the radio, performing their now classic "Who’s on First?" routine on Kate Smith’s show. That led to a movie contract.
With their hit “Buck Privates” in 1941, they became motion picture stars. They also landed their own radio show. They reportedly turned out 40 movies which grossed more than $120 million. Their personal earnings from these films have been set a $25 million, making them one of the top box office draws in the business.
As their popularity waned in the 1950s, their films became less successful and both men wound up having trouble with the IRS. The duo split for good in 1957, with Costello continuing to perform as a solo act. He made his final film (and the only one without Abbott), The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock, shortly before his death.
He was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2009. Paterson put up a statue of him in 1992 in a renamed Lou Costello Memorial Park.