After 92 years of memorable comedy roles, actor Jerry Stiller has passed away at the age of 92. A star in multiple generations, first as part of a husband and wife comedy team with Anne Meara in the 1960s, and later as a sitcom staple in the 1990s and 2000s, Stiller’s irascible personality was often encapsulated within his characters. His passing was confirmed by son and fellow comedian Ben Stiller on Twitter, who said Stiller had died of natural causes.
Jerry Stiller was a classically trained actor who was active on Broadway in a number of productions in the 1970s and 1980s, but comedy quickly became the backbone of his career. He met wife Anne Meara in 1953, and the duo began performing together in 1959 with the Compass Players, the improv group that eventually evolved into the famous Second City. The comedy duo of Stiller and Meara would later go on to considerable fame via radio performances and appearances on programs like The Ed Sullivan Show, with material that highlighted the dramatic differences in their physical appearances and upbringing. Meara, a red-haired, Catholic descendant of Ireland, made an amusing pair with the stocky, Eastern European Jewish figure cut by Stiller.
If that dynamic sounds familiar, it’s probably because it was echoed on some level by the role that would eventually bring Stiller worldwide fame, as George Costanza’s father Frank on Seinfeld. There, Stiller played a cantankerous, highly eccentric Korean War veteran who was responsible for the bulk of George’s various neuroses, with a bickering wife to match, played by actress Estelle Harris. His many accomplishments included such inventions as the “manzierre,” the brassiere for men, his computer sales scheme and accompanying mantra “SERENITY NOW!”, and of course the advent of “Festivus,” the alternative Christmastime holiday “for the rest of us,” marked by such activities as the Airing of Grievances and the feats of strength. Although Stiller appeared in only 30 of Seinfeld’s 180 episodes from season 5 onward, he was ultimately as important to the cast as any of the principal performers.
Following Seinfeld, Stiller channeled the same energy into a similar role on the entire series run of Kevin James’ King of Queens, while simultaneously enjoying a career revival that would see him appear in films such as Zoolander alongside son Ben.
Stiller remained happily married to Meara until her passing in 2015, and once told The Daily News of New York that he had no intention of ever stopping acting or comedy.
“I’ve never thought of stopping,” he said in 2012. “The only time you ever stop working is when they don’t call you.”