Curly Joe DeRita, the last surviving member of the Three Stooges team of hard-edged slapstick comedians, died on Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 83 and had been living at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif., for two years.
The cause was pneumonia, and he had previously suffered a series of strokes, said a stepson, Robert Benjamin.
The Three Stooges made short filler material produced by Columbia Pictures for a quarter-century ending in 1958. In 1959, the plump Mr. DeRita joined the group for some years and performed with the team in a succession of feature-length comic films.
Among them were "Have Rocket, Will Travel" (1959), "Snow White and the Three Stooges" (1961) and "The Three Stooges Meet Hercules" (1962), and "The Outlaw Is Coming" (1965).
Mr. Benjamin said that at his death Mr. DeRita was still getting fan letters "from around the world" Roots in Vaudeville
When Mr. DeRita joined the group, he took the place of Joe Besser, who had had minor roles in Abbott and Costello comedies and had become a Stooge in 1955 after his predecessor, Shemp Howard, died in 1955.The Stooges, whose roots were in vaudeville, also included over the years, Mr. Howard's brothers, Moe and the original Curly; Larry Fine, and Joe Besser.
Mr. de Rita was known simply as Joe before he joined the Stooges.
When he and the other two Stooges, Larry and Moe, appeared in "Snow White and the Three Stooges" (1961), a New York Times reviewer, Howard Thompson, wrote that the the trio "are lively, to be sure." He continued: "If their friendly, pleasant bumbling (the pies fly only once) doesn't exactly enhance Grimm, the boys do quite nicely as sideline sponsors of the hero and heroine. The earthy clowns may be just what an atomic-age 'Snow White' calls for."
The Stooges' knockabout-style comedy began amusing movie fans in 1930. The team made its movie debut in that year in "Soup to Nuts." Eventually they made more than 200 two-reeler comedies, each lasting about 18 minutes, that were used to fill in movie bills to a given length.
Those shorts were repeatedly resurrected in later years for the pleasure of new generations who savored the wildly wacky Stooge antics on television.
By the early 1980's, the Stooges had spawned a cult of sorts, with film festivals, television marathons, books, a variety of trademarked products and a vigorous fan club commemorating their unsubtle antics, which were punctuated with gruns, growls, screeches and various bits of mayhem committed on one another. Another perennial attraction was their seeming to reduce to rubble whatever they came in touch with.
After his comic career ended, Mr. DeRita lived in Southern California.
In addition to Mr. Benjamin, Mr. DeRita is survived by his wife, Jean, and another stepson, Earl Benjamin.