Actress and comedian Anne Meara died Saturday from natural causes, her family confirmed today. The Emmy and Tony nominated wife of Jerry Stiller, and mother to Ben Stiller, was 85. In a statement released to the Associated Press, the family described Jerry Stiller as Meara’s “husband and partner in life.”
“The two were married for 61 years,” the statement said, “and worked together almost as long,”
Born in Brooklyn in 1929, Meara was raised Roman Catholic, but converted to reform Judaism six years after her 1954 marriage to Jerry Stiller. The pair were members of the improv troupe The Compass Players, later known as Second City, eventually creating the comedy duo Stiller and Meara. Stiller and Meara enjoyed success in the 1960s, becoming staples of variety tv, including regular appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. In the 1970s, with variety shows declining in popularity, the pair moved on to other projects, including a short-lived comedy show which aired after Saturday Night Live in the DC market, and series of humorous commercials for Blue Nun Wine. The duo also starred in a short-lived sitcom together, The Stiller and Meara Show, in 1986.
In addition, Meara enjoyed success as actress in her own right. She starred in the short-lived 1975 CBS-series, Kate McShane, for which she received an Emmy nomination, and had recurring role on Rhoda, as the title character’s close friend Sally Gallagher. She went on to costar on the first three seasons of Archie Bunker’s Place, as Veronica Rooney.
Her television career picked up steam again beginning in the late 1980s. She held a recurring role as the Tanner family’s grandmother on Alf, and later wrote an episode. From 1992-1999, she was a regular cast member on the ABC Soap Opera All My Children. In 1999, she appeared on The King of Queens as Veronica Olchin, Mother of Patton Oswalt’s character, and returned to the role occasionally from 2003-2007. From 2002-2004, she appeared as Mary Brady on Sex and the City, reprising the character for the 2008 film. Her other television appearances include Oz, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Will and Grace, and In The Heat of the Night, among many others.
Meara also enjoyed success as a dramatic actress on stage, making her Broadway debut in 1956, in a revival of A Month in the Country, directed by Michael Redgrave. She would go on to be nominated for the Best Featured Actress Tony Award for her 1993 appearance in Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie. Her many film credits include The Out-of-Towners, The Boys from Brazil, Awakenings, Reality Bites, Kiss of Death, and Zoolander.
Aside from their comedy act, Meara and Stiller frequently worked together, often appearing on one another’s television shows as ex or current spouses. Among them, Stiller occasionally guested opposite Meara on both Rhoda and Archie Bunker’s Place, while Meara’s appearances on King of Queens saw her character eventually married to Stiller’s.
She is survived by her husband, her son Ben Stiller and daughter Amy Stiller, and several grandchildren.