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

He died of natural causes, his son — comedy star Ben Stiller — said in a tweet.

SHARE Jerry Stiller, comedian and ‘Seinfeld’ actor, dies at 92
Actor and comedian Jerry Stiller died at 92, his son Ben Stiller, announced on Monday, May 11, 2020.

Actor and comedian Jerry Stiller died at 92, his son Ben Stiller, announced on Monday, May 11, 2020.

Ben Stiller via Twitter

NEW YORK — Comedy veteran Jerry Stiller, who launched his career opposite wife Anne Meara in the 1950s and reemerged four decades later as the hysterically high-strung Frank Costanza on the smash television show “Seinfeld,” died at 92, his son Ben Stiller announced Monday.

He died of natural causes, his son — a comedy star himself — said in a tweet.

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 and 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 honor 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.”

SEINFELD_PLAYERS.jpg

Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller, left) visits with his son, George (Jason Alexander), and his wife, Estelle (Estelle Harris), on an episode of “Seinfeld.”

NBC

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 became a writer, director and actor in such films as “Dodgeball,” “There’s Something About Mary” and “Meet the Parents.”

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 theater, 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. Among their early gigs was performing in Cleveland and St. Louis in 1959 with the Compass Players, the Chicago company that would evolve into The Second City.

They later appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and worked nightclubs nationwide, including Chicago’s famed Mister Kelly’s.

merlin_91161555.jpg

Jerry Stiller, right, and Anne Meara, center, appear with variety show host Ed Sullivan in 1970.

AP

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 honored 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 & co. went off the air in 1998. The following year, he appeared in Ben Stiller’s spoof on modeling, “Zoolander.”

The Latest
The painting was done in April by the Belgian artist Renaud Taelemans, who goes by “My Name Is Ebo,” to promote a concert for the electronic dance group Ganja White Night.
Chicagoans show support for Ukraine, students get fresh haircuts for the first day of school and police welcome new graduates and honor Ella French in our best unseen pics of the week.
The author was attacked Friday as he was about to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in New York.
The actor, who is in a coma and in critical condition, is being kept on life support for possible organ donation.
A Big Ten recruit staying close to home and some exceptional multisport athletes highlight the list of the area’s top quarterbacks.