Jerry Stiller, the Emmy-nominated comedy legend who re-emerged later in life playing loud-mouthed cranks on the TV sitcoms “Seinfeld” and “King of Queens,” has died at age 92.
His death was confirmed early Monday by his son, actor-director Ben Stiller. “I’m sad to say that my father, Jerry Stiller, passed away from natural causes,” the younger Stiller tweeted. “He will be greatly missed. Love you Dad.”
In addition to his TV work, starting with comedy appearances with his wife Anne Meara, Stiller had memorable turns in movies, playing Walter Matthau’s NYPD partner in 1974’s “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” and the mild-mannered husband of Divine’s Edna Turnblad in John Waters’ original 1988 comedy “Hairspray.”
He also appeared with his son, Ben Stiller, in a series of movies, including the Oscar-nominated 1987 short film “Shoeshine” as well as “The Heartbreak Kid,” “Zoolander” and “Zoolander 2.”
Stiller got his start on the comedy circuit in the 1950s after meeting Meara, his wife of 62 years, who died in 2015. The mismatched pair — he a short, stocky Jewish guy from Brooklyn, she a tall, slender Irish Catholic from Long Island — developed an instant onstage rapport that led to dozens of appearances on the “The Ed Sullivan Show” and radio and TV commercials for products like Blue Nun wine and Amalgamated Bank.
He continued working in film and on stage, appearing in Broadway productions such as Terrence McNally’s 1975 comedy “The Ritz” in 1975 and David Rabe’s 1984 dark drama “Hurlyburly.”
But his biggest break as a solo performer came when he landed the role of Frank Costanza, the overbearing father of Jason Alexander’s George, on the NBC sitcom “Seinfeld.” He joined the cast as a recurring player in the fifth season, earning an Emmy nomination in 1997 and contributing some memorable moments such as modeling the “bro” brassiere for men and creating the alterna-holiday Festivus. Mostly, his roughly two dozen appearances featured him raging at either his son or his wife, played by veteran actress Estelle Harris.
He parlayed that gig into a lead role on the long-running CBS sitcom “King of Queens,” as the similarly loud-mouthed father of Leah Remini’s Carrie who moves in with her and her delivery driver husband, played by Kevin James. The show ran for nine seasons, from 1998-2007, with Stiller appearing in every episode.