Comedy lost a great one today. This morning, Ben Stiller took to Twitter to share the news that his father, comedian Jerry Stiller, had passed away at the age of 92.
“I’m sad to say that my father, Jerry Stiller, passed away from natural causes,” Ben Stiller’s tweet read. “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.”
Jerry Stiller had one of those careers in comedy that most people would envy, as it spanned generations. Whether you were a child of the 60’s or a sitcom viewer in the 90’s to early 2000’s, you definitely knew who Jerry Stiller was.
Born in Brooklyn in 1927, he was first inspired to go into show business when his father took him to go see the Marx Brothers film A Night At The Opera. After coming home from serving in World War 2, Stiller earned a Bachelors degree in speech and drama from Syracuse University. In 1953, Stiller met his partner in comedy and life Anne Meara, whom he married a year later in 1954 and would remain married to until her death in 2015. According to Meara, he was the one that suggested that they be a comedy duo.
In 1957, they joined the Compass Players in Chicago, which was a precursor of Second City, which was formed a few years later in 1959. In an era when you had husband and wife comedy duos such as Nichols and May as well as Burns and Allen, Stiller and Meara fit right in. By 1961, they were performing in night clubs in New York when The New York Times deemed them a “national phenomenon”.
Throughout the 1960’s and into the 1970’s, Stiller and Meara became a very popular duo, starting with their many appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. They went on to appear on just about every show you could imagine of the era, including The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, What’s My Line?, The Merv Griffin Show, The Carol Burnett Show, The Kraft Music Hall, The Danny Kaye Show, Flip, The Mike Douglas Show, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and The Hollywood Squares.
They even started their own syndicated, 5 minute show in 1978 titled Take Five with Stiller and Meara which lasted until 1979. Also in 1979, they teamed with HBO to host HBO Sneak Previews, a monthly show in which they previewed upcoming movies. That hosting stint lasted until 1982. But with the decline of variety shows at the end of the 1970’s, they saw a decline in popularity. They did try their hand at a sitcom with The Stiller and Meara Show in 1986, but it was not successful.
It was only years later in 1993 that Stiller started to see a resurgence when he was cast as George Costanza’s father on the show Seinfeld. Originally written as being more subdued to his over-bearing wife, played by Estelle Harris, Stiller decided he would instead match his wife shout for shout, this bringing the character we all know to life. This role brought him back into America’s homes, earned him an Emmy nomination, and gave him a popular catchphrase with his shouting of “serenity now”.
Following Seinfeld’s finale in 1998, Stiller didn’t have to wait very long before another offer came his way, directly from
Kevin James. Within months, he found himself cast as another short-tempered father, this time to Leah Remini’s character, on The King of Queens. This series went on to last 9 years, and along with Seinfeld, has had a long life in syndication.
Stiller also popped up in movie roles throughout his long career, including in Hairspray (the original and remake), Zoolander, The Ritz, A Fish in the Bathtub, Heavyweights, Hot Pursuit, Nadine, The Pickle, The Independent, Planes: Fire and Rescue, and Zoolander 2.
In addition to a massive comedy legacy, Stiller also leaves behind a son, Ben, and a daughter, Amy.