As the short, straight man counterpart of the stellar husband-and-wife comedy team “Stiller & Meara,” Jerry Stiller and wife Anne Meara were on top of the comedy game in the 1960s, a steady and hilarious presence on television variety, notably The Ed Sullivan Show (1948), on which they appeared 36 times. Decades later, Jerry’s career was revitalized in the role of the raucous, gasket-blowing Frank Costanza on the sitcom classic Seinfeld (1989).
Jerry Stiller was born Gerald Isaac Stiller in the Unity Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, to Bella (Citron) and William Stiller, a bus driver. His paternal grandparents were Jewish emigrants from Galicia, and his mother was a Polish Jewish emigrant, from Frampol. Stiller was, in the beginning, a drama major at the Syracuse University. Though he had played rather uneducated, blue-collar sorts for most of his career, he received a Bachelor of Science in Speech and Drama before making his 1951 acting debut on stage with Burgess Meredith in “The Silver Whistle”. While a member of the improvisational team The Compass Players (the company later evolved into the well-known Second City troupe), he met Anne.
They married in 1954 and began touring together on the national club circuit while giving new and inventive meaning to the term spousal comedy. This led to TV prominence on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Tonight Show,” “The Steve Allen Comedy Hour,” “The Merv Griffin Show,” as well as game shows “He Said, She Said,” “you’re PUtting Me On” and “What’s My LIne?” as well as other talk/comedy venues.
After well over a decade of fame together, they decided to pursue individual successes and both found it. A Broadway favorite in such shows as “Hurlyburly”, “The Ritz” (he later recreated his hilarious mobster family member role in the film The Ritz (1976)), “The Golden Apple”, “Three Men on a Horse”, “What’s Wrong with This Picture” and “The Three Sisters”, Stiller even appeared with Kevin Kline and Blythe Danner as Dogberry in William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” in 1988. Musicals were not out of his range, either, as he created the role of Launce in “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and co-starred as Nathan Detroit in a production of “Guys and Dolls.” Although he kept afloat on television as a 1970s regular on The Paul Lynde Show (1972) and Joe and Sons (1975), he had some rocky years and Anne’s pilot fizzled when they reunited for a possible “Stiller & Meara” sitcom.
Then came eight seasons as hypertensive Frank Costanza and his character star was reborn. Nominated for a 1997 Emmy Award and the recipient of the 1998 American Comedy Award, Stiller found back-to-back sitcom hits with The King of Queens (1998) as the irascible Arthur Spooner. He also appeared in a number of his successful son Ben Stiller’s comedy pictures including Heavyweights (1995), Zoolander (2001), The Heartbreak Kid (2007) and Zoolander 2 (2016)
Into the millennium, Jerry has appeared in a number of independent films, including a starring role as a low-level director seeking a comeback in the comedy The Independent (2000); had a cameo in the off-color Rodney Dangerfield slapstick farce My 5 Wives (2000); played the slick Mr. Pinky in the film version of the Broadway musical hit Hairspray (2007); and featured roles in the romantic comedies Swinging with the Finkels (2011) and Excuse Me for Living (2012).
Daughter Amy Stiller is also a thriving actress. He and Anne wrote, performed and produced award-winning radio commercials together for such products as Blue Nun Wine, United Van Lines and Amalgamated Bank, among others. His autobiography “Married to Laughter” came out in 2000.
Wife Anne died in May 2015, and Jerry Stiller died near five years later, in May 2020
- June, 08, 1927
- Brooklyn, New York
- May, 11, 2020
- Manhattan, New York
Cause of Death
- natural causes
- Cremated, Ashes scattered in Hessian Lake located at Bear Mountain State Park in New York