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How Each of the Three Stooges Actors Died

The Three Stooges were a touchstone of American comedy. In a near 50-year span from 1922 to 1970, their vaudeville humor had a profound impact on the industry.

Who can forget their slapstick style complete with frenetic farce, physical foolishness, and silly sound effects? And though these hijinks were the foundation of their shorts, the storylines often dealt in satire, social commentary, and class struggles.

In their long run, the Three Stooges made 190 short films all filled with their signature razzmatazz.

What you may not realize is, though they were called the Three Stooges, it was not always the same actors. Throughout their filmography, there were several changes and change backs in the cast.

Unfortunately, all six actors who took on the mantle of the various stooges have passed away. Keep watching as we examine some of the moments in the life, careers, and deaths of these funnymen.

Though they are gone, their legendary contributions to comedy will immortalize their legacies. 

Moses Harry Horwitz – Moe Howard

Moses Horwitz was better known under his stage name of Moe Howard. Possibly his most memorable feature as a member of the three stooges was his distinctive hairdo which he did himself with a pair of scissors.

However, before he became famous for his bowl-cut buffoonery, Moe had to work his way to the top.

His first introduction to comedy and stage work came at an early age. He would skip school to sneak away and see shows with his brother. Sometimes they would book singing gigs at bars.

It wasn’t long before Moe’s talent was recognized. Comedian Ted Healy hired Moe to be a heckler at his shows. The routine would bring huge laughs.

Healy wanted to develop the bit, so he hired Moe’s brother Shemp and another comedian Larry Fine. The group became known as “Ted Healy and his Stooges.” The jokes were similar to what we would see later on. Healy would be purposely interrupted on set by the three men, and he would dish out abuse.

This was the launching pad the group needed. Ultimately, they released their first short film Soup to Nuts produced by Fox.

Because their many films were produced on a shoestring budget, there wasn’t enough to hire stunt doubles. The trio did the physical humor themselves.

Though they became very good at it there were some injuries, and it seemed Moe Howard took the worst of it.

Over the years, Moe recalls having broken an ankle, cracking ribs, and suffering numerous concussions.

Because he was the first to join the Healy troupe and stayed with the stooge ensemble the entire time, Moe Howard could be considered the first member of the group. He stayed with the stooges for nearly 50 years.

One would think all the decades of physical comedy would take its toll, but it was actually the heavy smoking that led to Moe’s demise.

In 1977, Moe Howard died of lung cancer at the age of 77.  Moe’s autobiography detailing the stories of his stooging was published posthumously. The comedian also has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.

Louis Feinberg – Larry Fine

Louis Feinberg who went by the name Larry Fine. Along with Moe, he was the other longtime member of the Three Stooges.

Fine’s career began with music out of necessity.

When he was a young boy, there was an accident with the acid his father used in his capacity as a jeweler. Fine was about to mistakenly drink the acid when his father knocked it away. Though it saved his life, Fine’s arm was badly burned.

To rebuild the muscles, it was suggested that he take up the violin.

Years of musical practice pushed Larry toward the stage. Playing gigs as a vaudeville violinist, Larry met Ted Healy.

After noticing his talent both musically and comedically, Healy signed Fine on to his stooges’ team. Along with Healy, Moe, Larry, and Shemp were finally a group.

As The Three Stooges developed their routine, Larry fell into the natural position as the straight man. He would act as the go-between and sometimes the voice of reason for the bickering brothers Moe and Shemp.

Unlike Moe, Larry didn’t do quite as well financially. He was terrible with money management. Much of his pay was pumped into his gambling addiction or lent to friends.

Fortunately, he too had a prolific 50-year career with the stooges.

In 1970, Fine stuffed a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. He lived his final years in a nursing home where he was always available to dazzle fans with his stooging.

Five years later he had additional strokes that led to his death at age 72. 

While he was certainly a star on screen, Larry Fine insisted that the work was not fun. The painful antics were tasking, but the job paid well.

Let’s take a moment before we take a look at the rest of these funnymen. If you are enjoying this video, give us a like. Also, consider subscribing to the Facts Verse page for similar videos.

Samuel Horwitz – Shemp Howard

Samuel Horwitz, following his brother’s lead, changed his stage name to Shemp Howard. As previously mentioned, Shemp tagged along with his brother to join the Ted Healy comedy group.

After the four starred in Soup to Nuts, Shemp, Larry, and Moe had a falling out with Healy.

Healy was becoming power hungry and attempted to stop the trio from branching out on their own.

But the gang did break away from Healy to work under the name of “The Three Lost soles” However, a few years later, they were approached by Healy to work together again.

While Healy had solid connections in the industry, he still had the same abrasive attitude.

Shemp was so disillusioned with Healy’s behavior that he decided to branch out from the group.

In his 14 years away from the group, Shemp had a fairly successful solo career. He stared in many short films and worked alongside such comedians as W. C. Fields and Abbot & Costello.

In 1946, Shemp rejoined the Three stooges to fill in for his then replacement brother Curly who fell ill. It was meant to be a short-term gig, but Curly never recovered. Shemp worked with the Stooges for 9 more years. 

In 1955, Shemp was in the middle of telling a joke, cigar in hand, when he suffered a massive heart attack.

The actor died at the age of 60.

Although he left the group to pursue his own career, Shemp was one of the original stooges and he ended his career with them.

Jerome Lester Horwitz – Curly Howard

When Shemp left the group in 1932, they felt they needed an immediate replacement. Enter Jerome Horwitz. Jerome was the younger brother of Shemp and Moe. Like his brothers, he created the stage name of Curly Howard.

Though he was not an original member, Curly quickly built a reputation. He was the man who is remembered for his high-pitched voice and the iconic woo-woo-woo sound effects. His natural comedy fit right in with the group. Although he didn’t sport a wild hair-do like his colleagues, this bald funnyman is regarded as the most popular member of all the stooges.

For many years, Curly was the star of the show. Moe and Larry could easily drift off the many funny quirks he brought to the group.

However, by 1944, Curly’s health started to decline. The actor suffered from heart conditions and weight issues.

In 1946, Curly suffered a debilitating stroke. He was no longer well enough to be a Stooge. Moe helped take care of his brother. When he made a mild recovery Curly had some cameos in their films.

In 1947, as his health continued to decline, Curly retired from acting. He had additional strokes and was limited to a wheelchair.

A few years later, in 1952, Curly died at the young age of 48.

He may be gone, but his fabled “nyuk- nyuk- nyuk” laugh will always be remembered.

Joe Besser

After Shemp Howard’s fatal heart attack, Moe and Larry wanted to continue their act as the Two Stooges.

The studios quickly rejected this idea. They knew it had to be three men. They tapped Joe Besser as the man for the job.

Not only did Besser have a resume of comedy working with Abbott & Costello, but he was also already under contract at Colombia studios.

It wasn’t a great match. Moe was already didn’t want to work with Besser. Making things worse, Besser had a stipulation in his contract that kept him from being hit excessively.

Considering physical humor was the stooges foundation, this didn’t go over well. Besser’s character was seen as whiny and annoying, and he didn’t take physical punishment in the films.

Besser was only with the stooges from 1955-1959. Although Besser always fondly spoke of his years with the three Stooges, his role on the team is largely forgettable.

After his stint with the Stooges, Besser continued his solo comedy career.

In 1988, Joe Besser died from heart problems at age 80.

Joe DeRita – Curly Joe

After Shemp died and Besser didn’t work out, Moe and Larry contemplated retirement.

However, their shorts aired on TV and they had a career renaissance. They became a highly sought-after act. As such, they began to look for a new member.

Joe DeRita perfected his comedy during World War II. He joined the USO and performed for the troops alongside Bing Crosby and Randolph Scott.

When Moe and Larry came across his act, they invited him to be the third stooge. Initially, DeRita took on the spot left empty by Besser and Curly. However, to give himself his own persona and to avoid any confusion, DeRita became the Stooge known as ‘Curly-Joe”.

The new group saw success. Not only did they star in 6 feature-length films, but they also had half live-action half animated series called “The New Three Stooges”

Throughout the 60s their popularity was restored as they became one of the highest-paid acts in America.

This continued for a number of years until Larry Fine died of a stroke.

In 1974, DeRita tries to revive the Three Stooges by himself, but it never gained traction.

Joe DeRita was the last surviving member of the Three Stooges. He died in 1993 from pneumonia.

DeRita added his own charm and is fondly remembered as a member of the crew. His headstone is engraved with the words “The Last Stooge”

These were the lives and deaths of the six men who took a turn as a member in this outfit. While some were mainstays throughout the entire history of the group, others had relatively short stints. Regardless, each of their contributions was memorable in the legacy of one of the greatest comedy troupes of all time– The Three Stooges.

So, what do you think? Which actor was the greatest stooge ever? Do you think their style of comedy is timeless? Sound off in the comments below.

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