Wednesday, January 20, 2021

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

Jerry Stiller, the beloved comedy legend who starred in “Seinfeld” and “The King of Queens,” has died, his son Ben Stiller announced Monday.
He was 92.

“I’m sad to say that my father, Jerry Stiller, passed away from natural causes,” Ben tweeted early Monday.
“He was a great dad and grandfather, and the most dedicated husband to Anne for about 62 years. He will be greatly missed. Love you Dad.”

Stiller had launched his career in the 1950s opposite his wife Anne Meara, who also starred alongside him in many of his most memorable on-screen moments before her death at 85 in May 2015.

Besides “There’s Something About Mary” star Ben, the couple had a daughter, Amy, an actress, raising the family in their longtime home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

The son of a bus driver and a housewife, Stiller grew up in Depression-era Brooklyn, earning a drama degree at Syracuse University after serving in World War II.

He then headed back to the Big Apple to launch his career — which really took off after he met Meara in spring 1953, getting married that fall.

They used their obvious differences — he a short, stocky Jewish guy from Brooklyn, she a tall, Irish Catholic from the Long Island suburbs — in a routine that took them to “The Ed Sullivan Show” 36 times.
“That was Jerry’s idea, to use and plumb the depths of our backgrounds, exaggerate them and have the two differences of the Jewish and the gentile,” Meara said during a 2005 Archive of American Television sit-down with her husband.

The couple went on to appear as a team in dozens of film, stage and television productions, including the 1995 off-Broadway show “After-Play,” written by Meara.

Despite appearing in numerous hit movies, Stiller is best known for his star turns in TV comedy classics — starting in 1993 when he joined “Seinfeld” as the hysterically high-strung Frank Costanza.
Although a supporting player, he created some of the Emmy-winning show’s most enduring moments and earned a 1997 Emmy nomination.

In a 2005 Esquire interview, Stiller recalled that he was out of work and not the first choice to be the father to Jason Alexander’s neurotic George Costanza, and had a smaller role.
When he was finally picked, he said it was supposed to be “very meek” — which he said was not working.
“On the fourth day, I said to Larry David, ‘This ain’t workin’. Can I do it my way?’” he recalled, saying his first over-the-top scene had the cameramen cracking up.

The break-through could not have come at a better time. “My manager had retired,” he told Esquire. “I was close to 70 years old, and had nowhere to go.”
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.”
Meara also starred, and in its final season, her Veronica married her real-life husband’s character, Arthur Spooner.

Stiller once claimed the show’s star Kevin James “seduced” him to take the job on the sitcom that ran from September 1998 to May 2007.

He also got to appear alongside son Ben in some of his movies, including modeling spoof “Zoolander” and “Shoeshine,” which was nominated for a 1988 Academy Award in the short subject category.

His storied career also saw him 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.”

Stiller also wrote an autobiography, “Married to Laughter,” about his marriage to soul mate and comedic cohort Meara.

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