Jerry Stiller was more than George Costanza’s fictional dad — and Ben Stiller’s real one.
The veteran NYC funnyman, born Gerald Isaac Stiller, died at 92 of “natural causes,” Ben, 54, tweeted at 5 a.m. Monday. “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.”
Sure, he’ll go down in TV history for playing lovably neurotic Frank Costanza on “Seinfeld” — after a lengthy Broadway career performing everything from Shakespeare to Chekhov to Terrence McNally. But Stiller delivered a wide array of memorable TV and film performances. Here are a few of his most iconic moments throughout his 64-year career:
The Stiller & Meara comedy duo
Stiller and his wife of 60-plus years, Anne Meara, were a stand-up comedy duo who appeared a staggering 36 times on the iconic “Ed Sullivan Show.” Billed as Stiller & Meara starting in the late 1950s, their act thrived throughout 1960s and ’70s.
As the variety-show circuit died a slow death, this latter-day vaudeville act pivoted to showcase their talents in a series of ad campaigns, most notably for Blue Nun wine. The duo’s ads boosted the vino’s sales by 500%, CBS News reported.
The couple also headlined a syndicated short-form sketch comedy series — “Take Five with Stiller and Meara” — for one season, from 1977 to 1978. The enduring duo went on to appear together in dozens of film, stage and TV projects, including the stalled 1986 sitcom pilot “The Stiller & Meara Show,” and the 1995 off-Broadway show “After-Play,” which was written by Meara.
His comedy partner, whom he wrote about in his 2000 memoir “Married to Laughter: A Love Story Featuring Anne Meara,” died in 2015.
He was Divine’s loving husband in ‘Hairspray’
Sure, Stiller and Meara were an unlikely duo — he was a stout Jewish guy from Brooklyn, she was a tall, Irish Catholic lass from Long Island — but he was also one-half of an even odder couple: as gender-bending Divine’s husband in John Waters’ cult classic ’80s flick, “Hairspray.”
While he played Wilbur Turnblad, the warm, encouraging dad of plus-size wannabe dancing queen Tracy Turnblad (Rikki Lake) in Waters’ 1988 original, he also assumed the role of Mr. Pinky in the 2007 film adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical.
He also had a serious side
Stiller played memorably against type as Walter Matthau’s police sidekick, Lt. Rico “You’re a sick man” Patrone, in the classic white-knuckle NYC subway highjacker thriller “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” in 1974. Ignore the subpar Denzel Washington and John Travolta remake from 2009 — and stream the gritty original featuring Stiller on Amazon.
He revolutionized the ‘Bro’ and ‘Festivus’
No list would be complete without his seminal sitcom “dad” roles.
Stiller appeared in so many iconic “Seinfeld” episodes that it’s hard to believe he didn’t join the beloved series as Frank Costanza until Season 5.
George’s short-fused pop added “Serenity Now” to our pop-culture lexicon, reinvented the male undergarment (“the Mansierre” or “the Bro,” depending on whom you ask), and introduced the option of “Festivus for the rest of us” to those of us who’d prefer to air our grievances and exhibit feats of strength over the holidays instead of singing carols and exchanging presents.
Stiller so perfected the part of the acerbic patriarch that he later played another iconic TV dad, Arthur Spooner, in “The King of Queens,” during its run from 1998 to 2007.
Stiller, who earned an 1997 Emmy nomination for his “Seinfeld” performance, was typically succinct when asked why he decided to join the sitcom father brigade in 1993 after decades of work on stand-up comedy and Broadway stages.
“My manager had retired,” he said in a 2005 Esquire interview. “I was close to 70 years old, and had nowhere to go.”
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