Jerry Stiller, the American comedian and actor who was one-half of the great 1960s husband-wife comedy team Stiller & Meara, a fan-favorite cornerstone of the sitcom Seinfeld and the father of Hollywood star Ben Stiller, has died at the age of 92.
Ben Stiller confirmed the news today, tweeting that his father died of natural causes.
Jerry Stiller had a long and successful career as a comedian, including in the comedy duo Stiller & Meara with his wife Anne Meara. They were a staple of TV variety and talk shows and commercials for decades, beginning primarily in the 1960s and particularly on The Ed Sullivan Show. The “mixed marriage” aspect of their partnership — she Irish-American Catholic (though she converted to Judaism early on), he Eastern European Jewish — was as groundbreaking as their comedy was sharp yet loving.
Stiller later performed with his son, as well, appearing in Ben’s Zoolander.
The elder Stiller found his career’s second act with his casting as Frank Costanza, the father of Jason Alexander’s George Costanza, a hot-tempered eccentric who once attempted to contain his rage at wife Estelle and son George (and, indeed, the world) by repeatedly chanting “Serenity Now.” On another classic episode, Frank, ever disgruntled with the status quo, invented his own holiday: Festivus, for, as he said, “the rest of us.” Among the holiday’s made-up traditions: physical feats of strength and the airing of grievances.
“I’ll never forget, on the first day of the shoot in front of the audience, Julia Louis, Larry, Michael Richards, and the whole cast surrounded me, wishing me well,” Still told the TV Academy’s The Interviews series in 2005. “They were rooting for me. They were protecting me from the fear, ’cause this was something. From that day on, those were the best years of my life as an actor.” Watch clips from that interview below.
Stiller was born in Brooklyn, the eldest of four children. He served in the U.S. Army during the Second World War. Once he returned from combat, he began acting in the theater, before meeting his future wife and embarking on a career in comedy.
Although he later found his most widespread success on the small screen in sitcoms Seinfeld and later The King of Queens, his film roles included The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three (1974) John Waters’ 1988 Hairspray (he played the husband to Divine’s Edna Turnblad) and 2007’s The Heartbreak Kid. Stiller also starred on stage, including Broadway in 1975 in the Terrence McNally comedy The Ritz and in David Rabe’s Hurlyburly (1984), among numerous other roles.
He is survived by his son Ben, daughter Amy Stiller and two grandchildren. His wife of 62 years, Anne Meara, died in 2015.