Jerry Stiller, the comedic legend who played hilariously crusty fathers on “Seinfeld” and “The King Of Queens,” has died of natural causes, his son, Ben Stiller, announced Monday. He was 92.
“He was a great dad and grandfather, and the most dedicated husband to Anne for about 62 years,” the younger Stiller wrote on Twitter:
The elder Stiller, born in New York City, spent much of the first part of his decadeslong career as half of the comedy duo Stiller and Meara with wife Anne Meara, who died in 2015. The two appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” dozens of times and became the top comic couple for a while. In 2001, he also received a Grammy nomination in the Best Spoken Word category for his performance on the album “Married To Laughter – A Love Story Featuring Anne Meara.”
But it was the second half of Stiller’s career that accelerated his TV stardom.
In 1993, Stiller replaced John Randolph as Frank Costanza, the father of George Costanza on the hit TV sitcom “Seinfeld” (1989-98). Stiller recalled playing Frank as meek at first, but a rehearsal changed him into the ill-tempered character for which he’s fondly remembered.
“I felt more and more restricted,” Stiller told The Hollywood Reporter. “Finally, before we were supposed to shoot, I just took it upon myself. When [a hysterical] Estelle Harris (who played his wife) said, ‘You’re the one who ruined [George’s] life, you were never there for him, you were a lousy role model, you weren’t a father,’ I [returned fire] out of desperation, ‘You’re the one who killed him off, you slept in bed with him, you made him sandwiches, you never treated him like a real object.’ And the place broke up!”
Stiller appeared in about two dozen episodes of “Seinfeld,” and received an Emmy nomination for his work on the show in 1997. His indelible portrayal of the “Festivus”-creating Frank, who fed the hilarious self-loathing of son George (Jason Alexander) and screamed “Serenity now!” as an absurdly calming mantra, made him known to millions of TV viewers.
Stiller quickly followed that role with the part of irksome father-in-law Arthur on “The King of Queens” (1998-2007) starring Kevin James and Leah Remini.
The “Hairspray” actor also appeared with Ben Stiller in the model-spoofing “Zoolander” movies and a remake of “The Heartbreak Kid.”
In addition to his son, Stiller is survived by a daughter, actor Amy Stiller.
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