William Alexander “Bud” Abbott (October 2, 1895 – April 24, 1974) was an American actor, producer and comedian. He is best remembered as the straight man of the comedy team of Abbott and Costello, with Lou Costello.
Relations between Abbott and Costello had been strained for years. In their early burlesque days, their contracted salaries were split 60%-40%, favoring Abbott, because the straight man was always viewed as the more valuable member of the team. That was changed to 50%-50% after they became burlesque stars.
However, other accounts indicate that the 60%-40% split was Costello’s idea. The statement, “A good straight man is hard to find” is attributed to Costello. On the other hand, it was perceived that the sixty-forty split had long irked Costello. Once Buck Privates made them bona fide movie stars, Costello insisted that the 60%-40% split be reversed in his favor, and it remained so for the remainder of their careers. Costello’s additional demand that the team be renamed “Costello and Abbott” was rejected by Universal Studios, resulting in a “permanent chill” between the two partners, according to Lou’s daughter Chris Costello in her biography Lou’s on First. Their relationship was further strained by Abbott’s alcohol abuse, a habit motivated by his desire to combat the effects of epilepsy.
The team’s popularity waned in the 1950s, and they were further bedeviled by tax issues; the IRS demanded heavy back taxes, forcing the partners (both of whom had been serious gamblers) to sell most of their assets (including Costello’s rights to their television show). They were forced to withdraw from Fireman Save My Child in 1954 due to Costello’s health and were replaced by lookalikes Hugh O’Brian and Buddy Hackett, and were dropped by Universal the following year. Abbott and Costello formally dissolved their business relationship in July 1957. Lou Costello died on March 3, 1959.
Abbott suffered from epilepsy throughout his life. In the early 1960s, he suffered the first in a series of strokes. In 1972, he broke his hip. Abbott died of cancer at the age of 78 on April 24, 1974, at his home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles. His wife Betty died on September 12, 1981 at the age of 79.