“I’m sad to say that my father, Jerry Stiller, passed away from natural causes,” the younger Stiller wrote. “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.”
“I remember watching Stiller and [Anne] Meara as a kid on Ed Sullivan, loving them,” fellow Seinfeld actor Wayne Knight (Newman) tweeted. “Then to work with Jerry, a kind, brilliant comedian who had no idea how great he was. What an honor! He was a giant!”
“Such sad news that my beloved friend, Jerry Stiller, has passed,” Jason Alexander, who played Stiller’s son on Seinfeld, wrote. “He was perhaps the kindest man I ever had the honor to work beside. He made me laugh when I was a child and every day I was with him. A great actor, a great man, a lovely friend. #RIPJerryStiller I Love you.”
“Jerry Stiller’s comedy will live forever,” Seinfeld wrote simply.
The prolific comedic actor was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 8, 1927, to a family of immigrants. Stiller became interested in acting as a young man — drawn to the antics of Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante. After a stint in the army, he went on to study theater at Syracuse University. After graduating in 1950, he started acting full-time.
Stiller met his wife, Anne Meara, in 1953, after which they married and began acting together as a comedic team. From the Compass Players (now Second City) to nightclubs to The Ed Sullivan Show, they climbed the showbiz ranks. Stiller had his share of meaty Broadway roles — Terrence McNally’s The Ritz in 1975 and David Rabe’s Hurlyburly 1984 — and notably appeared as Divine’s husband, Wilbur Turnblad, in John Waters’ 1988 film Hairspray. Still, he found lasting fame playing the hot-headed Frank Costanza on TV over the course of the Nineties.
According to the New York Times, he joined the cast during the fifth season, appearing in only 30 episodes of the 180-episode show. Still, he staked his claim in the viewers’ hearts — his character notably coining the holiday Festivus.
Following Seinfeld‘s finale, Stiller went on to play another TV father: Arthur Spooner on King of Queens. He also appeared in the film Zoolander with his son Ben in 2001 as model agent Maury Ballstein. He reprised the role in the 2016 sequel.
A showbiz family, all the Stiller have found fame as actors. Ben’s sister, Amy, is best known as both an actor and writer, appearing in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Inside Amy Schumer. “I think the kids knew that although we were in the business, we were also there for them,” Jerry told Rolling Stone in 1998. “Even though they resented moments when we were away and acted out their own anger, they understood that we were, number one, a family.”
Stiller’s wife, Meara, died in 2015 at age 85.