Did you hear the one about the Brooklyn Jew who married an Irish Catholic, performed with a legendary improvisational troupe, went on to have a successful multi-decade career as a comedy duo, give birth to more comedy legends, and also have a late-career resurgence on not one but two mega-hit sitcomes?
That’s not even doing justice to the greatness of Jerry Stiller, who died Monday of natural causes. Stiller was 92.
Born Gerald Isaac Stiller on June 8, 1927, Jerry studied theater at Syracuse University after serving in the army at the end of World War II. He’d meet Anne Meara in 1953 and marry her a year later. She preceded him in death in 2015.
Stiller and Meara joined The Compass Players (the forerunners to The Second City), before venturing out on the own as a successful duo in the 1960s, making multiple appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show.
In the 1970s, the duo performed five-minute sketches on TV, and would often fill the time between movies in the early years of HBO.
Even in the 1990s, they were ahead of their time, promoting single-payer healthcare in the United States.
While Jerry also booked roles on stage and screen over the years, it’d be the part of Frank Costanza on Seinfeld that turned him onto a new generation of comedy fans. And Stiller wasn’t even sure about taking the part! And once he had the part, he wasn’t sure Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld knew what they were doing with it!
Of course, Stiller was right. You can watch him slap Jason Alexander upside the head in the first of many great moments spliced together here.
He’d follow that up with several more years on The King of Queens.
And everyone who knew him knew what a mensch he was.
They leave behind two talented kids, all grown up Ben and Amy Stiller, as well as lifetimes of memories. Rest in Peace, Jerry.