Jerry Stiller
Stiller in 1965
Gerald Isaac Stiller

(1927-06-08)June 8, 1927
New York City, U.S.
DiedMay 11, 2020(2020-05-11) (aged 92)
New York City, U.S.
Alma materSyracuse University (BA)
  • Comedian
  • actor
Years active1953–2016
(m. 1954; died 2015)
Children2, including Ben Stiller

Gerald Isaac Stiller (June 8, 1927 – May 11, 2020) was an American comedian and actor. He spent many years as part of the comedy duo Stiller and Meara with his wife, Anne Meara, to whom he was married for over 60 years until her death in 2015. Stiller saw a late-career resurgence starting in 1993, playing George Costanza's father Frank on the sitcom Seinfeld, a part which earned him an Emmy nomination. The year Seinfeld went off the air, Stiller began his role as the eccentric Arthur Spooner on the CBS comedy series The King of Queens, another role that garnered widespread acclaim.[1]

Stiller appeared together with his son Ben Stiller in films such as Zoolander, Heavyweights, Hot Pursuit, The Heartbreak Kid, and Zoolander 2. He also performed voice-over work for films and television, including The Lion King 1½ and Planes: Fire and Rescue. In his later career, Stiller became known for portraying grumpy and eccentric characters who were nevertheless beloved.[2][3]

Early life

The eldest of four children, Stiller was born on June 8, 1927, at Unity Hospital in Brooklyn, New York City, to Bella (née Citron; 1902–1954) and William Stiller (1896–1999), a taxi and bus driver.[4] His family was Jewish. His paternal grandparents emigrated from Galicia (southeast Poland and western Ukraine), and his mother was born in Frampol, Poland.[5] He lived in the Williamsburg and East New York neighborhoods before his family moved to the Lower East Side,[6] where he attended Seward Park High School[7] and played Adolf Hitler in a school production.[8]

Upon his return from service in the U.S. Army during World War II,[9][10] Stiller attended Syracuse University, earning a bachelor's degree in Speech and Drama in 1950.[11][12] He also studied drama at HB Studio in Greenwich Village.[13] In the 1953 Phoenix Theater production of Coriolanus (produced by John Houseman), Stiller, along with Gene Saks and Jack Klugman, formed (as told by Houseman in the 1980 memoir Front and Center) "the best trio of Shakespearian clowns that I have ever seen on any stage".[14]

Also in 1953, Stiller met actress-comedian Anne Meara, and they married in 1954. Until Stiller suggested it, Meara had never thought of doing comedy. "Jerry started us being a comedy team," she said. "He always thought I would be a great comedy partner."[15] They joined the Chicago improvisational company The Compass Players (which later became The Second City) and, after leaving, began performing together. In 1961 they were performing in nightclubs in New York City and by the following year were considered a "national phenomenon", said the New York Times.[15]

Stiller and Meara

Stiller and Meara publicity photo with an autograph, 1965

The comedy team Stiller and Meara, composed of Stiller and his wife, Anne Meara, was successful throughout the 1960s, with numerous appearances on television variety programs, primarily on The Ed Sullivan Show.[16] In 1970, they broke up the live act before it broke up their marriage. They subsequently forged a career in radio commercials, notably the campaign for Blue Nun wine. They also starred in their own syndicated five-minute sketch comedy show on radio, Take Five with Stiller and Meara, from 1977 to 1978.[17]

From 1979 to 1982, Stiller and Meara hosted HBO Sneak Previews, a half-hour show produced monthly on which they described the movies and programs to be featured in the coming month. They also did some comedy sketches between show discussions. The duo had their own 1986 TV sitcom, The Stiller and Meara Show, in which Stiller played the deputy mayor of New York City and Meara portrayed his wife, a TV commercial actress.



Late in his career, Stiller earned the part of the short-tempered Frank Costanza, father of George Costanza, on the sitcom Seinfeld, a role which Stiller played from 1993 until 1998.[18] Stiller's character as initially envisioned was a "meek" and "Thurberesque" character that required him to wear a bald cap. After a couple of days of rehearsal Stiller realized the character wasn't working and asked Seinfeld co-creator Larry David if he could perform the character in a different way, which was more in line with his final characterization on the show.[19][20] For his portrayal of Frank, Stiller gained widespread critical and popular acclaim, including being nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series in 1997 and winning an American Comedy Award for Funniest Male Guest Appearance in a TV Series in 1998.[18][21]

The King of Queens

After Seinfeld ended, Stiller had planned on retiring. However, Kevin James asked him to join the cast of The King of Queens. James, who played the leading role of Doug Heffernan, had told Stiller that he needed him to have a successful show. Stiller agreed and played the role of Arthur Spooner, the father of Carrie Heffernan, from 1998 until 2007. Stiller said that this role tested his acting ability more than any other had, and that, before being a part of The King of Queens, he only saw himself as a "decent actor".[22]

Other appearances

Stiller in 2006

Stiller played himself in filmed skits opening and closing Canadian rock band Rush's 30th Anniversary Tour concerts in 2004. These appearances are seen on the band's DVD R30: 30th Anniversary World Tour, released in 2005. Stiller later appeared in cameos for in-concert films for the band's 2007–08 Snakes & Arrows Tour. Stiller appeared on Dick Clark's $20,000 Pyramid show in the 1970s, and footage of the appearance was edited into an episode of The King of Queens to assist the storyline about his character being a contestant on the show, and, after losing, being bitter about the experience, as he never received his parting gift, a lifetime supply of Rice-a-Roni.[23] He also made several appearances on the game show Tattletales with his wife, Anne Meara.

In the late 1990s, Stiller appeared in a series of Nike television commercials as the ghost of deceased Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi. He also appeared in various motion pictures, most notably Zoolander (2001) and Secret of the Andes (1999). On February 9, 2007, Stiller and Meara were honored with a joint star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. On October 28, 2010, the couple appeared on an episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stiller voiced the announcer on the children's educational show Crashbox. Starting in October 2010, Stiller and Meara began starring in Stiller & Meara, a Yahoo web series from Red Hour Digital in which they discussed current topics. Each episode was about two minutes long.[24][25] Stiller also worked as a spokesman for Xfinity.


Stiller at a book reading for Festivus in New York City in 2005

Stiller wrote the foreword to the 2005 book Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us (ISBN 0-446-69674-9) by Allen Salkin. The book discussed Festivus, the fictional holiday promulgated by Stiller's Seinfeld character Frank Costanza.[26]

Stiller also authored a memoir titled Married to Laughter: A Love Story Featuring Anne Meara, which was published by Simon & Schuster (ISBN 0-684-86903-9).[27]

Personal life

Stiller was married to Anne Meara for over 60 years, from 1954 until her death on May 23, 2015.[28] The two met in an agent's office. Meara was upset about an interaction with the casting agent, so Stiller took her out for coffee—all he could afford—and they remained together thereafter. Meara was Irish Catholic and converted to Judaism before the couple's two children were born.[8] They had two children: actress Amy Stiller (b. 1961) and actor-comedian Ben Stiller (b. 1965).[29] He had two grandchildren through Ben.


On May 11, 2020, Stiller died from natural causes at his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at the age of 92.[30][31] Many actors Stiller worked with, including Seinfeld castmates Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Michael Richards[32] and King of Queens castmates Kevin James and Leah Remini, paid tributes to him.[33] He is buried in Nantucket, Massachusetts.[34]



Year Film Role Notes Ref(s)
1970 Lovers and Other Strangers Jim Uncredited [35]
1974 The Taking of Pelham One Two Three Lt. Rico Patrone [36]
Airport 1975 Sam [36]
1976 The Ritz Carmine Vespucci [36]
1977 Nasty Habits P.R. Priest [36]
1980 Those Lips, Those Eyes Mr. Shoemaker [36]
1986 Seize the Day Dr. Tamkin [36]
1987 Hot Pursuit Victor Honeywell [36]
Nadine Raymond Escobar [36]
1988 Hairspray Wilbur Turnblad [36]
1989 That's Adequate Sid Lane [36]
1990 Little Vegas Sam [36]
1992 Highway to Hell The Desk Cop [36]
Freefall Emily's Father Short
1993 The Pickle Phil Hirsch [36]
1995 Heavyweights Harvey Bushkin [36]
1997 Die Story von Monty Spinnerratz Prof. Plumpingham [37]
Camp Stories Schlomo [36]
Stag Ted [36]
The Deli Petey Cheesecake [36]
1999 A Fish in the Bathtub Sam Kaplan [36]
Secret of the Andes Dr. Golfisch [36]
The Suburbans Speedo Silverburg [36]
2000 The Independent Monty Fineman [36]
My 5 Wives Don Giovani [36]
Chump Change The Colonel [36]
2001 Zoolander Maury Ballstein [36]
On the Line Nathan [36]
2002 Serving Sara Milton the Cop [36]
2004 Teacher's Pet Pretty Boy Voice [38]
The Lion King 1½ Uncle Max Voice; Direct-to-DVD [36]
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy Man in Bar Uncredited [39]
2005 R30: 30th Anniversary World Tour Himself [40]
2007 Hairspray Mr. Pinky [36]
The Heartbreak Kid Doc [36]
2008 Snakes & Arrows Live Heidi [41]
2011 Swinging with the Finkels Mr. Winters [36]
2012 Foodfight! General X Voice [36]
Excuse Me for Living Morty [36]
2014 Planes: Fire & Rescue Harvey Voice [37]
2016 Zoolander 2 Maury Ballstein Final film role [42]


Year Show Role Notes Ref(s)
1956–1957 Studio One in Hollywood Sergeant Joe Capriotti / Hugh 2 episodes [13]
1957 The Big Story Tyler Episode: "The Hoax"
1959 Armstrong Circle Theatre Pfc. Elwood Johnson Episode: "Thunder Over Berlin"
1962 The Defenders Sergeant Wysenski Episode: "The Empty Chute"
General Electric Theater Harold Episode: "Acres and Pains"
1964 Brenner Chris Zelco Episode: "The Plain Truth"
1964–1965 Linus the Lionhearted 3 episodes [43]
1966–1978 The Mike Douglas Show Himself 40 episodes
1967–1973 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 14 episodes
1969 That's Life Episode: "Our First Fight"
1971–1972 The Courtship of Eddie's Father Mr. Landon / Paul Sterling 2 episodes [37]
1971–1973 Love, American Style Leonard Ferguson / Harry 2 episodes [37]
1972 The Carol Burnett Show Himself Episode: "#6.8"
1972–1973 The Paul Lynde Show Barney Dickerson 4 episodes [37]
1975–1976 Joe and Sons Gus Duzik 14 episodes [37]
1976 Phyllis Burt Hillman Episode: "Phyllis and the Jumper" [13]
Rhoda Lloyd Zimmer Episode: "A Touch of Classy" [13]
1979 Time Express Edward Chernoff Episode: "Garbage Man/Doctor's Wife"
1979–1983 The Love Boat Harlan Weatherly / Tony Vitelli / Bud Hanrahan 3 episodes [37]
1980–1982 Archie Bunker's Place Carmine 2 episodes [37]
1981 Madame X Burt Orland Television film
Hart to Hart Myron Finkle Episode: "Murder Takes a Bow" [13]
Private Benjamin Sgt. Muldoon Episode: "So Long, Sergeant Ross"
1982 Simon & Simon Harold Traxler Episode: "The Uncivil Servant" [37]
Alice Gordy Episode: "Do You Take This Waitress" [37]
1983 Reading Rainbow Dinosaur Comic Episode: "Digging Up Dinosaurs" [44]
Amanda's Sal Episode: "You Were Meant for Me"
The Other Woman Mel Binns Television film
1984 Trapper John, M.D. Artie Merrow Episode: "Where There's a Will" [36]
1985 The Equalizer Brahms Episode: "Pilot"
Tales from the Darkside Luther Mandrake Episode: "The Devil's Advocate"
1986 Screen Two Marty de Reske Episode: "The McGuffin" [37]
1987 Saturday Night Live Stu Episode: "Charlton Heston/Wynton Marsalis"
1988–1989 Tattingers Sid Wilbur 14 episodes [13]
1989 Murder, She Wrote SFPD Lt. Birnbaum Episode: "When The Fat Lady Sings" [36]
1990 Monsters Victor Episode: "One Wolf's Family" [37]
Sweet 15 Waterman Television film [45]
1991 American Playhouse Sam / Seymour Shapir 2 episodes [36]
Women & Men 2 Irving Television film
1992–1996 Law & Order Michael Tobis / Sam Pokras 2 episodes [36]
1993–1998 Seinfeld Frank Costanza 26 episodes [36]
1993 L.A. Law Nat Pincus Episode: "Rhyme and Punishment" [13]
1994 In the Heat of the Night Rabbi Feldman Episode: "The Rabbi" [37]
1995 Homicide: Life on the Street McGonnigal Episode: "In Search of Crimes Past" [36]
1996 Deadly Games Phil Cullen Episode: "Dr. Kramer"
1997 Subway Stories Old Man Television film [46]
1998 Touched by an Angel Maury Salt Episode: "Cry and You Cry Alone" [36]
The Larry Sanders Show Himself Episode: "I Buried Sid" [36]
Hercules Eagle Voice; Episode: "Hercules and the Promethus Affair"
1998–2007 The King of Queens Arthur Spooner 195 episodes [36]
2000–2002 Teacher's Pet Pretty Boy Voice; 11 episodes [36]
2003 Odd Job Jack Jim McDonald Episode: "A Candidacy of Dunces" [37]
Sex and the City Mr. Brady Episode: "One" [47]
2009 Wonder Pets! Bernie Voice; Episode: Save the Old White Mouse [37]
Mercy Joe Thalberg Episode: "The Last Thing I Said Was" [36]
2010 Ice Dreams Skipper Television film [37]
2010–2011 Fish Hooks Principal Stickler Voice; 21 episodes [48]
2011 The Good Wife Judge Felix Afterman Episode: "Silver Bullet" [36]
2014 How Murray Saved Christmas Murray Weiner Voice; Television film [37]
2016 Zoolander: Super Model Maury Ballstein Voice; Television film (final film role)


Year Title Theatre Role Ref(s)
1954 The Golden Apple Alvin Theatre Mayor Juniper [49]
1955 The Carefree Tree Phoenix Theatre, Broadway The Propertyman [49]
1956 Diary of a Scoundrel Styopka [49]
The Good Woman of Setzuan Policeman [49]
1957 Measure for Measure Barnadine [49]
The Taming of the Shrew Biondello [49]
1958 The Power and the Glory Mestizo [49]
1975 The Ritz Longacre Theatre, Broadway Carmen Vespucci [49]
1977 The Unexpected Guest Little Theatre, Broadway Harry Mullin [49]
1980 Passione Morosco Theatre, Broadway Berto [49]
1984 Hurlyburly Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Broadway Artie [49]
1993 Three Men on a Horse Lyceum Theatre, Broadway Charlie [49]
1994 What's Wrong with This Picture? Brooks Atkinson Theatre, Broadway Sid [49]
1997 The Three Sisters Criterion Center Stage Right, Broadway Chebutykin [49]


Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominees Result
1997 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series Seinfeld Nominated
2001 Grammy Awards Best Spoken Word Album Married to Laughter: A Love Story Nominated
2007 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture Hairspray Nominated



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