Jerry Stiller, Longtime Comic Who Won Fame On ‘Seinfeld,’ Dies At 92

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FILE - In this Oct. 4, 2007, file photo, actor Jerry Stiller arrives to the Broadway opening of Manhattan Theatre Club's "Mauritius," in New York. Comedian veteran Stiller, who launched his career opposite wife Anne Meara in the 1950s and reemerged four decades later as the hysterically high-strung Frank Costanza on the smash television show “Seinfeld,” died at 92, his son Ben Stiller announced Monday. (AP Photo/Diane Bondareff, File)

NEW YORK (JTA) – Jerry Stiller, the longtime Jewish comic who became best known for playing the belligerent character Frank Costanza on “Seinfeld,” has died.

Stiller died of natural causes, his son, the comic actor Ben Stiller, announced in a tweet Monday. He was 92.

Jerry Stiller was a classically trained actor who met and married Anne Meara in 1953 when both were struggling actors, and they became a much sought-after comedy duo. The couple — the short and Jewish Stiller, and his tall and non-Jewish wife — appeared some three dozen times on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and other television variety and talk shows. They also appeared in nightclubs, as well as in radio and television commercials, including for Blue Nun wine – boosting its sales by 500 percent, according to The New York Times. The couple were married for 62 years until Meara’s death in 2015.

Their interfaith relationship found its way into their comedy routines. Meara, who was Irish American and Roman Catholic, converted to Judaism in 1961.

Stiller did not make his first appearance on “Seinfeld” until the fifth season in 1993, and though he appeared on fewer than 30 of the megahit sitcom’s 180 episodes, Frank Costanza became an immensely popular character despite his harsh demeanor toward his wife and son George. The elder Costanza was the creator of Festivus, the now-popular winter holiday “for the rest of us.”

The Costanzas may have had an Italian name, but there was plenty of Jewishness there: Frank Costanza ate kasha in bed and, a former Army cook, made Jewish delicacies for a Jewish singles dance.

Stiller would earn an Emmy nomination for the role.

He later appeared as another father, Arthur Spooner, on the sitcom “The King of Queens,” and married Meara, who guest starred several times, on the series finale.

In 1999, Stiller appeared in “Zoolander,” his son’s movie spoofing male modeling. Other film credits included both versions of “Hairspray,” in 1988 and in 2007.

Stiller, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, served in the U.S. Army during and immediately after World War II, and later studied theater at Syracuse University under the G.I. Bill.

Along with Ben Stiller, he is survived by his daughter, the actress Amy Stiller.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. why is this person being mentioned on a Torah website?!?!? There was no Shabos, no Kashrus, no Torah, no association with Torah institutions. He married a shiksa who converted in name only. He played in Las Vegas dens of gambling and all minei znus. He didn’t donate to yeshivos!

    • He was a good man who entertained millions creating positive feelings toward Jews. Not every Jew is going to be Frum but the ones that aren’t can still have a positive affect on Judaism.

    • If your brother passed away (r”l), would you want him to just be ignored? Well, Mr. Stiller is your brother, as he is mine and every other Jew’s. That he lived his life ignorant of his Yiddishkeit doesn’t change that, though of course it is a tragic waste.

  2. He was a good man who entertained millions creating positive feelings toward Jews. Not every Jew is going to be Frum but the ones that aren’t can still have a positive affect on Judaism.

  3. You guys are nuts. He is NO LONGER part of the “fold”. He left the fold in 1953. You people need to learn and not be such an horahtzim.

    • Interesting. Chazal tell us ישראל אף על פי שחטא ישראל הוא, but I guess you think they’re “a[m] horahtzim” and that you know better.

      • He is no longer ” Yisroel” get it? Go back and learn the whole Gemorah! You are not even allowed to be michallel for such a person. He has to be a rehahcho b ‘mitzvos not just born Jewish!

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