Legendary comedian and actor Jerry Stiller died at 92 over the weekend after a long period of declining health. His death was confirmed by his actor son Ben Stiller on Twitter early Monday:
Stiller, who had been one half of the beloved comedy duo Stiller and Meara with his wife of over 60 years, Anne Meara (1929-2015), had managed to keep himself evergreen via innumerable TV guest spots, well-chosen movies and, from 1993-1998, by playing one of TV's most irritated and singularly intense dads, Frank Costanza, on Seinfeld.
He continued his grasp of embarrassing, but ultimately lovable, dads with a nine-year run on TV's The King of Queens (1998-2007).
Born on June 8, 1927, in New York City, Stiller had set his sights on performing after being inspired by the likes of Eddie Cantor (1892-1964) and Jimmy Durante (1893-1980), both of whose acts he saw as a kid.
Stiller served in WWII and studied theater via the G.I. Bill. His training was not of the comedic style for which he would become famous, but in Shakespeare and Greek tragedy — he had legit training that would inform his loopy humor in the future. Imagine Frank Costanza as the King Lear of Queens.
He made his TV debut in 1957 on The Big Story and continued in drama until his comedy act with Meara took off in the '60s. They became ubiquitous on TV and with their nightclub act, which played up their contrasts as a nice Catholic girl and an irascible Jewish boy.
They appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show (1955-1969) seven times and on numerous game shows, including a 15-episode run on Tattletales (1974-1975) that included the premier episodes. They dissolved their act in the '70s after a series of popular TV ads for products like Blue Nun and Amalgamated Bank, but occasionally appeared together — and were inseparable in their private lives.
On the stage, Stiller drew raves for The Ritz in 1975 (and recreating the role in the film version the following year) and Hurlyburly (1984), both on Broadway, and in such off-Broadway fare as The Threepenny Opera (1956).
During his long film career, Stiller was a stand-out in The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three (1974) and Hairspray (1988), and supported his son in Zoolander (2001) and Zoolander 2 (2016), the latter of which became his final recorded performance.
But it was his inspired Frank Costanza — for which he received his sole Emmy nomination in 1997 — for which will probably be remembered most vividly.
On how he got the part, he told The Television Academy it was a comedy of errors — in Season 5, he replaced John Randolph (1915-2004), who had made a single appearance in Season 4 — but it ended with Stiller and his TV wife Estelle Harris jockeying for position to hit their TV son Jason Alexander:
Stiller is survived by his son, Ben, and his daughter, Amy Stiller, also an actress.