Jerry Stiller, comedian and ‘Seinfeld’ actor, dies at 92

Jerry Stiller, comedian and ‘Seinfeld’ actor, dies at 92

NEW YORK — Jerry Stiller, who for decades teamed with wife Anne Meara in a beloved comedy duo and then reached new heights in his senior years as the high-strung Frank Costanza on the classic sitcom “Seinfeld” and the basement-dwelling father-in-law on “The King of Queens,” died at 92, his son Ben Stiller announced Monday.

“I’m sad to say that my father, Jerry Stiller, passed away from natural causes,” his son said in a tweet.

“He was a great dad and grandfather and the most dedicated husband to Anne for about 62 years. He will be greatly missed. Love you Dad,” wrote Ben, who followed in his father’s comedic footsteps and became an A-list box office star with movies like “Tropic Thunder,” “Dodgeball” and “There’s Something About Mary.”

Jerry Stiller was a multi-talented performer who appeared in an assortment of movies, playing Walter Matthau’s police sidekick in the thriller “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” and Divine’s husband Wilbur Turnblad in John Waters’ twisted comedy “Hairspray.”

He also wrote an autobiography, “Married to Laughter,” about his 50-plus year marriage to soul mate and comedic cohort Meara, who died in 2015. And his myriad television spots included everything from “Murder She Wrote” to “Law & Order” — along with 36 appearances alongside Meara on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Stiller, although a supporting player on “Seinfeld,” created some of the Emmy-winning show’s most enduring moments: co-creator and model for the “bro,” a brassiere for men; a Korean War cook who inflicted food poisoning on his entire unit; an ever-simmering salesman controlling his explosive temper with the shouted mantra, “Serenity now!”

Jason Alexander, his former TV son on “Seinfeld,” said Stiller “was perhaps the kindest man I ever had the honour to work beside. He made me laugh when I was a child and every day I was with him.” Added Billy Eichner “Seeing Jerry Stiller on screen instantly made you happy.”

Stiller earned an 1997 Emmy nomination for his indelible “Seinfeld” performance. In a 2005 Esquire interview, Stiller recalled that he was out of work and not the first choice for the role of Frank Costanza, father to Jason Alexander’s neurotic George.

“My manager had retired,” he said. “I was close to 70 years old, and had nowhere to go.”

He was initially told to play the role as a milquetoast husband with an overbearing wife, Estelle, played by Estelle Harris. But the character wasn’t working — until Stiller suggested his reincarnation as an over-the-top crank who matched his wife scream for scream.

It jump-started the septuagenarian’s career, landing him a spot playing Vince Lombardi in a Nike commercial and the role of another over-the-top dad on the long-running sitcom “King of Queens.”

While he was known as a nut-job father on the small screen, Stiller and wife Meara raised two children in their longtime home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side: daughter Amy, who became an actress, and son Ben, who would become perhaps the most famous Stiller as a writer, director and actor.

He and Ben performed together in “Shoeshine,” which was nominated for a 1988 Academy Award in the short subject category.

Stiller was considerably quieter and reflective in person than in character — although just as funny. The son of a bus driver and a housewife, Stiller grew up in Depression-era Brooklyn. His inspiration to enter show business came at age 8, when his father took him to see the Marx Brothers in the comedy classic “A Night at the Opera.”

Years later, Stiller met Groucho Marx and thanked him.

Stiller earned a drama degree at Syracuse University after serving in World War II, and then headed to New York City to launch his career. There was a brief involvement in Shakespearean theatre, including a $55 a week job with Jack Klugman in “Coriolanus.”

But his life and career took off after he met Meara in spring 1953. They were married that fall.

The seemingly mismatched pair — he a short, stocky Jewish guy from Brooklyn, she a tall, Irish Catholic from the Long Island suburbs — shared an immediate onstage chemistry, too. They were soon appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and working nightclubs nationwide.

The pair also wrote and performed radio commercials, most memorably a series of bits for a little-known wine called Blue Nun. The duo’s ads boosted sales by 500%. Ben Stiller recalled trips with his sister to California when his parents would head west to do television appearances.

The couple went on to appear as a team in dozens of film, stage and television productions. One of them was “After-Play,” a 1995 off-Broadway show written by Meara.

Actor Michael McKean honoured Stiller on Twitter as “a great comic actor and a splendid man. He and his wife, Anne, were royalty but they would’ve laughed in your face if you said so. And then hugged the hell out of you.”

Jerry Seinfeld also shared a tribute, posting a photo of himself holding “The Last Two People in the World,” a 1967 comedy album from Stiller and Meara. Seth Rogen tweeted: “He made me laugh till I cried on many occasions.”

Stiller joined “Seinfeld” in 1993, and moved on to “King of Queens” when the other Jerry & company went off the air in 1998. He also appeared in Ben Stiller’s spoof on modeling, “Zoolander,” released in 2001.

___

Larry McShane, a former staffer of the Associated Press, was the principal writer of this obituary.

The Associated Press

Entertainment

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

FILE- In this Nov. 6, 2003, file photo, Jerry Stiller, left, and his wife Anne Meara pose on the set of “The King of Queens,” at Sony Studio in Culver City, Calif. Stiller, a comedy veteran who launched his career opposite wife Meara in the 1950s and reemerged four decades later as the hysterically high-strung Frank Costanza on the smash television show “Seinfeld,” died of natural causes at the age of 92, his son Ben Stiller announced Monday, May 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Stefano Paltera, File)

Just Posted

Front-line hospital workers have walked off the job at the Rimbey Hospital, and across the province. Photo Submitted
Front-line health care workers on strike across the province, including Rimbey Hospital

The strike is due to cut of 11,000 health care jobs in the province, according to AUPE

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed more than 1,000 cases over the weekend Monday afternoon. File photo
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up Monday

‘We’ve now crossed the tipping point,’ says Hinshaw

Sylvan Lake RCMP Detachment. Photo Courtesy of Google Maps
Sylvan Lake RCMP looking for input on policing concerns

Staff Sergeant Jeff McBeth wants to hear from local community members in the detachment area

Black Press file
The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this year, saying that with COVID-19, it’s “more important than ever.”
Flu shots are available free of charge at pharmacies and doctors’ offices across the province

This year’s flu season presents an additional challenge as Alberta responds to COVID-19

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join AUPE walk outs across the province Monday Oct. 26, 2020. Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin health-care workers strike in protest of province-wide cuts

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join other front line hospital workers across the province in walk-outs.

The death of 19-year-old Jacob Michael Chitze of Edmonton has now been ruled a homicide following an ongoing RCMP investigation.
UPDATE: RCMP arrest youth for second degree murder of 19-year-old Jacob Chitze

Arrest made for the murder of Jacob Michael Chitze, 19.

Pumpkins for the 46th Annual WDACS Pumpkin Ball on display at Vision Credit Union Wetaskiwin. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
46th Annual Pumpkin Ball held virtually this year

This year the pumpkins were sold over a six-day online auction.

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were ‘late and confused’ on COVID response

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

Most Read