Veteran actor and comedian Jerry Stiller, who found fame on Broadway and later in the smash US show “Seinfeld” has died from natural causes aged 92, his son Ben Stiller said Monday. Stiller and his wife Anne Meara starred on the stage and TV in the 1960s, writing and performing comedy sketches and routines together. He later played George Costanza’s short-tempered father Frank on the smash TV show “Seinfeld”, for which he won the Funniest Male Guest Appearance in a TV Series at the American Comedy Awards in 1989. In 1997 he was nominated for an Emmy award for the same role. He also played Leah Remini’s father in the sitcom “The King of Queens” and starred alongside his son Ben in the “Zoolander” films.
“I’m sad to say that my father, Jerry Stiller, passed away from natural causes,” his son said in a tweet. “He was a great dad and grandfather, and the most dedicated husband to Anne for about 62 years,” Stiller added. “He will be greatly missed. Love you Dad.” The eldest of four children, Stiller was born at Unity Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, to Bella (née Citron) and William Stiller, a bus driver. His family is Jewish. His paternal grandparents immigrated from Galicia (southeast Poland and western Ukraine), and his mother was born in Poland. He lived in the Williamsburg and East New York neighborhoods before his family moved to the Lower East Side, where he attended Seward Park High School.
Also in 1953, Stiller met actor-comedian Anne Meara, and they married in 1954. Until Stiller suggested it, Meara had never thought of doing comedy. “Jerry started us being a comedy team,” she said. “He always thought I would be a great comedy partner.” They joined the Chicago improvisational company The Compass Players (which later became The Second City), and after leaving, began performing together. In 1961, they were performing in nightclubs in New York, and by the following year were considered a “national phenomenon”, said the New York Times. Stiller played the short-tempered Frank Costanza, the father of George Costanza in the sitcom Seinfeld from 1993 to 1998. He was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series in 1997, and won the American Comedy Award for Funniest Male Guest Appearance in a TV Series for his portrayal of Frank Costanza.
After Seinfeld ended, Stiller had planned on retiring. Kevin James asked him to join the cast of The King of Queens. James, who played the leading role of Doug Heffernan, had told Stiller that he needed him in order to have a successful show. Stiller agreed, and played the role of Arthur Spooner, the father of Carrie Heffernan, from 1998 until 2007. Stiller said this role tested his acting ability more than any others have and that, before being a part of The King of Queens, he only saw himself as a “decent actor.”
Stiller played himself in filmed skits, opening and closing Canadian rock band Rush’s 30th Anniversary Tour concerts in 2004. These appearances are seen on the band’s DVD R30: 30th Anniversary World Tour, released in 2005. Stiller later appeared in cameos in later in-concert films for the band’s 2007–2008 Snakes & Arrows Tour. Stiller appeared on Dick Clark’s $10,000 Pyramid show in the 1970s, and footage of the appearance was edited into an episode of The King of Queens to assist the storyline about his character being a contestant on the show, but that after losing, he was bitter about the experience as he never received his parting gift, a lifetime supply of “Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco Treat”. He also made several appearances on the game show Tattletales with his wife Anne.