Fine was born to a Jewish family as Louis Feinberg at 3rd and South Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father, Joseph Feinberg (who was Russian-Jewish), and mother, Fanny Lieberman, owned a watch repair and jewelry shop. In early childhood, his arm was burned with acid that his father used to test whether or not gold was real: having mistaken it for a beverage, Larry had raised the acid bottle to his lips when his father noticed and knocked it from his hand, accidentally splashing Larry's forearm. He was later given violin lessons to help strengthen the damaged muscles, a skill which would be put to use in many of the Stooges' films. He became proficient on the instrument, and his parents wanted to send him to a European music conservatory, but the outbreak of World War I prevented this. In scenes where all three Stooges are playing fiddles, only Larry is actually playing while the other two are only pantomiming. To strengthen his arm further, Larry took up boxing in his teens, fighting in (and winning) one professional bout. His father, opposed to Larry's fighting in public, put an end to his brief career as a boxer.
As Larry Fine, he first performed as a violinist in vaudeville at an early age. In 1925, he met Moe Howard and Ted Healy. Howard and his brother Shemp had been working as audience stooges for Healy. Shemp left soon after to attempt a solo career and was in turn replaced by another brother, Curly. Larry's trademark bushy hair had its origin, according to rumor, from his first meeting with Healy: he had just wet his hair in a basin, and it dried oddly as they talked. Healy encouraged him to keep the zany hairstyle and, according to a 1973 TV interview on the Mike Douglas show with Moe:
...So Healy said 'Would you like to be one of the stooges and make three instead of two?' And Larry said 'Yes, I would love that.' Healy said, 'I'll give you ninety bucks a week.' 'Fine.' He also said, 'I'll give you an extra ten dollars a week if you throw that fiddle away.'
Beginning in 1932, the team made 206 short films and several features, their most prolific period starring Larry, Moe and Curly. Their career with Healy was marked by disputes over pay, film contracts, and Healy's drinking and verbal abuse. They left Healy for good in 1934.
In many of the Stooge shorts, Fine did more reacting than acting, staying in the background and serving as the voice of reason in contrast to the zany antics of Moe and Curly. He was easily recognized by his hairdo, bald on top with lots of thick, bushy, curly hair around the sides and back for which Moe would often call him "Porcupine". He was a surrealistic foil and the middle ground between Moe's gruffly "bossy" and Curly and Shemp's (and later Joe's and Curly Joe's) childish personae. And like the other Stooges, he was often on the receiving end of Moe's abuse. His reasonableness was the perfect foil to Moe's brusque bluntness and Curly or Shemp's boyish immaturity, but Larry would sometimes propose something impossible or illogical and be quickly put down by Moe, both verbally and physically, who would often react by pulling a handful of hair out of Larry's head.
But in the earliest Stooge two-reelers (and occasionally the later ones), Larry frequently indulged in utterly nutty behavior. He would liven up a scene with a random improvised remark or ridiculous action. In the hospital spoof Men in Black, Larry, wielding a scalpel, chortles, "Let's pluck him... and see if he's ripe!" In Disorder in the Court, a tense courtroom scene is interrupted by Larry breaking into a wild Tarzan yell. Of course, after each of his outbursts, Moe would gruffly put him down. According to his brother, Larry developed a callus on one side of his face from being slapped innumerable times by Moe over the years.
Larry's on-screen goofiness was an extension of his own relaxed personality. Director Charles Lamont recalled, "Larry was a nut. He was the kind of guy who always said anything. He was a yapper." Writer-director Edward Bernds remembered that Larry's suggestions for the scripts were often "flaky" but occasionally contained a good comic idea.
The Stooges became a big hit on television in 1959 when Columbia Pictures released a batch of the trio's films, whose popularity brought them to a new audience and revitalized their careers.
Offstage, Larry was a social butterfly. He liked a good time and surrounded himself with friends. He and his wife, Mabel, loved to party and every Christmas served lavish midnight meals. Some of his friends called him a "yes man" since he was always so agreeable, no matter what the circumstances.
Larry's devil-may-care personality carried over to the world of finance. He was a terrible businessman and spent his money as soon as he earned it. He had a significant gambling addiction, leading him to gamble away all the money he had on him either at racetracks or high-stakes gin rummy card games. In an interview, Fine even admitted that he often gave money to actors and friends who needed help and never asked to be repaid. As Joe Besser and director Edward Bernds recall, because of his constant and free spending and gambling, Larry was almost forced into bankruptcy when Columbia stopped filming new Three Stooges episodes in December 1957.
Because of his profligate ways and Mabel's dislike for housekeeping, Larry and his family lived in hotels –- first in the President Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey where his daughter Phyllis was raised, then the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. He did not own a house until the late 1940s, when he purchased one in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, California.
On May 30, 1967, Mabel died of a sudden heart attack. Larry was on the road and about to take the stage for a live show at Rocky Point Amusement Park in Warwick, Rhode Island when he heard the bad news. He immediately flew home to California, leaving the other two stooges to improvise their remaining shows at the park.
Mabel's death came nearly six years after the early death of their only son, John, in a car crash on November 17, 1961 at age 24. Their only daughter, Phyllis, died of cancer in 1989 at 60. John's widow, Christy (Kraus), died on October 26, 2007 after a lengthy illness.
In the mid-60s, the Three Stooges tried their hand at a new comedy show titled The New Three Stooges, a mixture of live and animated segments. While it produced good ratings, they were too old by this point to do slapstick comedy well and Larry also began showing early signs of the stroke that would eventually kill him, such as frequent trouble delivering his lines properly. Returning to work, Fine and the other two Stooges were working on a new TV series entitled Kook's Tour in January 1970 when Larry suffered a debilitating stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body. He eventually moved to the Motion Picture Country House, an industry retirement community in Woodland Hills, where he spent his remaining years, and was confined to a wheelchair during his last five years.
Even in his paralyzed state, Fine did what he could to entertain the other patients, completed his "as told to" autobiography Stroke of Luck, and was visited regularly by his old partner Moe Howard.
Fine is sometimes erroneously listed as the father of sportscaster Warner Wolf, who is in fact the son of Jack Wolf, one of several other "stooges" who played in Ted Healy's vaudeville act at one time or another. He is, however, the father-in-law of actor and Los Angeles television personality Don Lamond, best known for hosting Stooges shorts on KTTV for many years.
The Three Stooges have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in honor of their contributions to the motion-pictures industry at 1560 Vine Street in Hollywood, dedicated on August 30, 1983, with ex-stooge Joe Besser in attendance.
In the 2000 TV movie, Larry Fine was played by Evan Handler.
In a 2004 New Yorker feature on the Farrelly Brothers's attempt to write a script for a new Three Stooges movie, Peter Farrelly offered his theory of Stooge appreciation: “Growing up, first you watched Curly, then Moe, and then your eyes got to Larry. He’s the reactor, the most vulnerable. Five to fourteen, Curly; fourteen to twenty-one, Moe. Anyone out of college, if you’re not looking at Larry you don’t have a good brain.”
A large mural of Larry Fine appears on a wall at the busy intersection of 3rd and South Streets, near his birthplace in Philadelphia. The effort to create a mural on that site began when a local weekly newspaper suggested that the city should somehow honor him. Dedicated on October 26, 1999, with Fine's sister in attendance, that mural showed Larry with a peculiar look on his face. In May 2006, a similar mural showing Larry with a more animated expression and playing a violin was painted over the original mural. This mural stands over Jon's Bar and Grill with a sign reading "Birthplace of Larry Fine."
On October 15, 2009, the Associated Alumni of Central High School in Philadelphia inducted Fine into that venerable school's Hall of Fame, even though he never graduated. A member of the Central Alumni Hall of Fame Committee pointed out, "Many people are not even aware that Mr. Fine was a Philadelphian and that is a part of what we’re trying to do."