Entertainment Legendary comedic actor Jerry Stiller dies, aged 92

Legendary comedic actor Jerry Stiller dies, aged 92

Jerry Stiller and his wife Anne Meara pose on the set of The King of Queens in 2003. Photo: AAP
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Jerry Stiller, actor and comedian and father to Ben Stiller, has died.

The star of Seinfeld, The King of Queens and Zoolander – among many other roles in a celebrated career – was aged 92.

Ben Stiller confirmed his father’s death on Monday night (Australian time), writing on Twitter: “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.”

Anne Meara, his wife of 61 years and frequent comedy partner, died in May 2015.

Among his most memorable roles was as the cranky and overbearing father of George Costanza in Seinfeld.

Playing the supporting character Frank Costanza, a former salesman who speaks fluent Korean, Stiller created some of the comedy’s most enduring moments:

    • The “bro”: The time Frank and Kramer invent a male brassiere, which Frank says helps him have better posture and breath better.
      A brassiere for a man – the manssiere, get it?’’
    • Festivus for the rest of us: Hating the religious and commercial aspects of Christmas, Frank invents his own holiday.
      At the Festivus dinner you gather all your family around and tell all the ways they have disappointed you over the last year.’’
    • “Serenity now!” : This becomes a mantra for the dad in season nine after Frank listens to a self-help recording. He is meant to recite it calmly but in typical cranky Frank style he shouts it instead.

You want a piece of me? You got it!’’
Stiller’s character Frank was known for his explosive temper

In 1997 he received his lone Emmy nomination for his work on the show, after appearing in dozens of episodes.

His other television spots included everything from Murder She Wrote to Law and Order – along with 36 appearances alongside Meara on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The Associated Press reported that Stiller recalled in a 2005 Esquire interview that he was out of work and not the first choice for the role of Frank Costanza.

“My manager had retired,” he said. “I was close to 70 years old, and had nowhere to go.”

He was initially told to play the role as a milquetoast husband with an overbearing wife, Estelle, played by Estelle Harris.

But the character wasn’t working until Stiller suggested his reincarnation as an over-the-top crank who matched his wife scream for scream.

It jumpstarted the septuagenarian’s career, landing him a spot playing Vince Lombardi in a Nike commercial and the role of another over-the-top dad on the long-running sitcom King of Queens.

Ben Stiller as dopey Derek Zoolander (left) and his cunning and brash manager Maury Ballstein, played by Jerry Stiller. Photo: IMDb

Jerry and son Ben had first appeared together in the forgettable 1987 comedy Hot Pursuit and when Ben made his feature film directorial debut in1994’s Reality Bites, he thanked his dad in the credits.

Younger fans will remember the father and son’s more famous appearance together in the 2001 cult classic Zoolander, in which Jerry Stiller played male-model manager Maury Ballstein.

Mugatu is so hot right now he could take a crap, wrap it in tinfoil, put a couple fish hooks on it and sell it to Queen Elizabeth as earrings.’’
– Maury Ballstein, explaining the prominence of fashion designer Mugatu

Although known as a comedian, Jerry Stiller was also a serious dramatic actor with a long history on Broadway.

He appeared in both film versions of Hairspray, the 1988 John Waters nostalgia trip in which he and Divine played the parents of Ricki Lake’s Tracy Turnblad, and the 2007 Adam Shankman-directed feature adaptation of the musical based on the Waters film, in which Stiller played Mr Pinky.

Stiller and his wife were a top comedy act in the 1960s and were members of the ‘improv’ group, the Compass Players, which later became Second City.

Although Meara had converted to Judaism when the couple was married, Stiller and Meara’s material centred on the differences in their ethnic backgrounds, epitomised by their signature “Hershey Horowitz/Mary Elizabeth Doyle” routines.

Stiller and Meara starred in Joan Micklin Silver’s 1999 feature A Fish in the Bathtub, about a couple who have been bickering for decades, finally prompting the wife to move in with their son, played by Mark Ruffalo.

The couple share a star on the Hollywood Walk in Fame, awarded in 2007.

-with AAP