R.I.P. Jerry Stiller, who took his comedy from The Ed Sullivan Show to Seinfeld
The sitcom icon and half of the legendary Stiller and Meara comedy duo was 92.
Image: The Everett Collection
For younger generations, Jerry Stiller will undoubtedly be best known as two fathers, both fictional and real. Comedy lovers know him as the dad of Ben Stiller and as Frank Costanza, George's old man on Seinfeld. But for those who grew up on the classic television of the 1960s and '70s, Jerry Stiller is known as one half of Stiller and Meara, the comedy team forged with his wife, Anne Meara.
It was rare to see them without one another on the small screen. Graduates of the legendary Second City improv theater, Stiller and Meara became household names as frequent guests on The Ed Sullivan Show, as seen above. First appearing on Sullivan's iconic talent showcase in 1963, Stiller and Meara popped up in episodes alongside hot acts such as The Supremes, The Turtles, The Lovin' Spoonful, Steppenwolf, Rodney Dangerfield, Sammy Davis Jr., The Three Stooges, Flip Wilson and Frankie Avalon, not to mention the Muppets and Topo Gigio, of course.
Stiller and Meara's 30-plus appearances on Sullivan — not to mention The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson — inevitably led acting roles and their own showcase. The duo played a couple on The Paul Lynde Show (1972–73) and The Love Boat. In 1974, Stiller and Meara even performed comedy with Andy Griffith, bringing together Brooklyn and Mayberry, on The Mac Davis Show.
Even as Meara landed recurring solo gigs on Rhoda and Archie Bunker's Place, Stiller would show up as an occasional guest to capture that incomparable chemistry.
At last, in 1986, networks gave the twosome their own sitcom, The Stiller and Meara Show, but the pilot special failed to make it to a series. A few years later, Stiller would become a sitcom icon in his own right, however.
In hindsight, it's hard to fathom that Jerry Stiller's Frank Costanza only appeared in 26 out of 180 total episodes of Seinfeld. His outsized personality led to timeless catchphrases, from his Festivus celebrations to "Serenity now!" Both became part of pop culture as a whole. The role earned Stiller an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series in 1997 and an American Comedy Award a year later.
It was a role that was essentially replicated for The King of Queens, as Stiller became a fixture on that later sitcom as the oddball, live-in father-in-law.
In 2007, Stiller and Meara earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Their son, Ben Stiller announced the death of Jerry via Twitter. "I’m sad to say that my father, Jerry Stiller, passed away from natural causes," Stiller tweeted. He was 92.