Jerry Stiller was an American comedian, actor, producer, and author who had a net worth of $14 million at the time of his death. Though he was a classically trained and accomplished stage actor, he was best-known to audiences for his work on the sitcoms “Seinfeld” (1993–1998) and “The King of Queens” (1998–2007).
Jerry and his wife, Anne Meara, formed the comedy duo Stiller and Meara in the early 1960s, and he appeared in several movies with their son, Ben Stiller, such as “Zoolander” (2001) and “The Heartbreak Kid” (2007).
Jerry produced the 2010 web series “Stiller & Meara” and the 2013 film “Cousins,” and he lent his voice to the animated projects “Teacher’s Pet” (2004), “The Lion King 1½” (2004), “Planes: Fire & Rescue” (2014), “How Murray Saved Christmas” (2014), and “Zoolander: Super Model” (2016). Stiller published the book “Married to Laughter: A Love Story Featuring Anne Meara” in 2000.
Jerry Stiller was born Gerald Isaac Stiller on June 8, 1927 in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up with mother Bella, father William (a bus and taxi driver), and three younger siblings in the East New York and Williamsburg neighborhoods. After the family moved to the Lower East Side, Jerry attended Seward Park High School, and he later served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Stiller then enrolled at Syracuse University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Speech and Drama in 1950, and he studied drama at Greenwich Village’s HB Studio.
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In 1953, he co-starred with Jack Klugman and Gene Saks in a Phoenix Theater production of “Coriolanus,” and the actors were referred to as “the best trio of Shakespearian clowns that I have ever seen on any stage” by the production’s producer, John Houseman. After Jerry met Anne Meara, the couple joined The Compass Players, a Chicago improv comedy company that later came to be known as The Second City. After they left the company, they began performing together as Stiller and Meara. Jerry and Anne started performing in New York City nightclubs in 1961 and were considered a “national phenomenon” by 1962.
Throughout the ’60s, Stiller and Meara appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and other variety programs, and in 1970, they decided to put an end to their live act. They did numerous radio ads together, and from 1977 to 1978, they starred in the radio sketch comedy show “Take Five with Stiller and Meara.” Jerry and Anne hosted “HBO Sneak Previews” from 1979 to 1982, and they released the comedy albums “Presenting America’s New Comedy Sensations: Jerry Stiller & Anne Meara” (1963), “Ed Sullivan Presents the Last Two People in the World” (1967), and “Laugh When You Like” (1972).
Stiller got his start on television in 1956 when he guest-starred on “Studio One in Hollywood,” and he soon appeared on “The Big Story” (1957), “The Defenders” (1962), and “Linus the Lionhearted” (1964–1965). He had an uncredited role in the 1970 film “Lovers and Other Strangers,” and he then appeared in “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” (1974), “Airport 1975” (1974), “The Ritz” (1976), and “Nasty Habits” (1977). Jerry guest-starred on several TV series during the 1970s, such as “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” (1971–1972), “Love, American Style” (1971–1973), “The Carol Burnett Show” (1972), and “The Love Boat” (1979–1983).
In the ’80s, Stiller appeared in the films “Those Lips, Those Eyes” (1980), “Seize the Day” (1986), “Hot Pursuit” (1987), “Nadine” (1987), “Hairspray” (1988), and “That’s Adequate” (1989) and the TV shows “Archie Bunker’s Place” (1980–1982), “Simon & Simon” (1982), “Trapper John, M.D.” (1984), “Saturday Night Live” (1987), and “Murder, She Wrote” (1989). He played Sid Wilbur on the NBC series “Tattingers” from 1988 to 1989, and in 1993, he was cast as Frank Costanza on NBC’s “Seinfeld,” appearing in 27 episodes during seasons four through nine. Around this time, Jerry appeared in the films “Highway to Hell” (1992), “Heavyweights” (1995), and “Camp Stories” (1997) and guest-starred on “L.A. Law” (1993), “In the Heat of the Night” (1994), “Homicide: Life on the Street” (1995), and “The Larry Sanders Show” (1998).
From 1998 to 2007, he played Arthur Spooner on the CBS sitcom “The King of Queens,” appearing in 195 of the show’s 207 episodes.
Stiller played Maury Ballstein in 2001’s “Zoolander,” 2016’s “Zoolander 2,” and the 2016 animated television film “Zoolander: Super Model,” which was his final role. He appeared in the 2002 film “Serving Sara” and the 2007 version of “Hairspray,” and he voiced Pretty Boy on “Teacher’s Pet” (2000–2002) and Principal Stickler on “Fish Hooks” (2010–2011). Jerry also performed in several Broadway productions, including “The Taming of the Shrew” (1957), “Hurlyburly” (1984), and “The Three Sisters” (1997).
In 1953, Jerry met fellow struggling actor Anne Meara at an agent’s office. Anne had just experienced a terrible interaction with the agent, and Jerry asked her to coffee. They were together until Meara’s death in 2015.
Jerry, who was Jewish, married Anne, who was Irish Catholic, on September 14, 1964, and after Meara converted to Judaism, the couple welcomed daughter Amy on August 9, 1961, and son Ben on November 30, 1965. Stiller and Meara received a joint star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007.
On May 11, 2020, Jerry passed away from natural causes at his Upper West Side home at age 92. Ben announced his death on social media, writing “I’m sad to say that my father, Jerry Stiller, passed away from natural causes. 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.” Jason Alexander, who played Stiller’s son on “Seinfeld,” called Jerry “perhaps the kindest man I ever had the honor to work beside” and “a great actor, a great man, a lovely friend.” Leah Remini stated, “I was lucky enough to work with Jerry Stiller, playing his daughter for 9 years on The King Of Queens, but even luckier to know him, the man, the husband, the father, the grandfather…I will be forever grateful for the memories, the fatherly talks off screen and for the many years of laughter, the kindness he had shown to me and my family.”
Awards and Nominations:
Stiller won an American Comedy Award for Funniest Male Guest Appearance in a TV Series for “Seinfeld” in 1998, and he was honored with a Golden Apple Award at the 2014 Big Apple Film Festival and Screenplay Competition. Jerry and Anne received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2012 Made in NY Awards, and Stiller earned a Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word Album For “Married to Laughter: A Love Story Featuring Anne Meara” in 2001.
He received a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for “Seinfeld” in 1997, and the series also earned him an Online Film & Television Association Award nomination for Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series in 1998.
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Jerry received a Best Actor in a Short nomination for “Simpler Times” at the 2016 Golden Door International Film Festival of Jersey City, and in 2008, Stiller and his “Hairspray” co-stars earned a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture and a Gold Derby Award nomination for Ensemble Cast.
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