Estelle Harris, who became one of TV’s most beloved characters as George Costanza’s perpetually nagging mother on Seinfeld, died Saturday at the age of 93. Her son, Glen Harris, confirmed the actress’ death to The Hollywood Reporter.
“It is with the greatest remorse and sadness to announce that Estelle Harris has passed on this evening at 6:25pm,” Glen said in a statement. “Her kindness, passion, sensitivity, humor, empathy and love were practically unrivaled, and she will be terribly missed by all those who knew her.”
Although she only appeared in under 30 episodes between 1992 and 1998, Harris’ melodramatic portrayal of George’s mom, Estelle Costanza, became an instant fan favorite character, with her exaggerated mannerisms and constant bickering with George and husband Frank a favorite part of the show.
“One of my favorite people has passed – my tv mama, Estelle Harris,” actor Jason Alexander, who portrayed her son George on the series, tweeted Saturday. “The joy of playing with her and relishing her glorious laughter was a treat. I adore you, Estelle. Love to your family. Serenity now and always.”
Later in her career, Harris, with her inimitable voice, became an in-demand voice actor, portraying Mrs. Potato Head in the Toy Story franchise alongside vocal roles in Tarzan II, The Family Guy, Mickey Mouse Works, Futurama and Kim Possible. Her final film role came in 2019 with Toy Story 4.
Harris was nearly 50 when she first appeared in the 1977 film Looking Up and took on minor roles throughout the 1980s and early Nineties, including Sergio Leone’s 1984 gangster film Once Upon a Time in America. She appeared in numerous commercials and episodes of Mad About You, Married… With Children and and Law & Order, but she immediately made an impactful debut on Seinfeld, making her debut in the classic Season Four episode “The Contest” in which the main characters bet on who could hold off masturbating the longest.
“I looked at the script and I said to myself, ‘Oh, that couldn’t be,”‘ Harris told Associated Press in 2012. “I asked them, ‘What did he do?’ and they all started laughing. I said, ‘Oh, no, it’s impossible. On TV? It’s impossible.’ But it was very possible, and it was funny.” Harris noted in an interview that one of her favorite quotes — “Too bad you can’t do that for a living. You’d be very successful at it. You could sell out Madison Square Garden!” — came from that episode.
Over the course of six seasons, she became a constant foil to her son George, humorously haranguing him over his career, lack of romantic prospects and virtually everything else. Her final appearance was in the show’s series finale “The Finale, Part 2.”
Estelle Constanza ranked at Number Nine on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Best Seinfeld Characters. “In addition to the character’s ever-watchful eye over her son, it was her love-hate chemistry with Jerry Stiller’s Frank Costanza, her contempt for Jerry Seinfeld’s snooty parents and superheroic skill for making large amounts of paella that made her truly unforgettable,” Rolling Stone wrote of Harris’ character.
“They yell [them] at me and I laugh and wave as I’m glad that they still remember and love the character,” she said in an interview earlier this year about fans repeating her best-known phrases. “I don’t take it personally. Because I played a character that was written for me and the writing was wonderful.”