Jerry Stiller, who played two of American television’s most cantankerous fathers on the sitcoms “Seinfeld” and “The King of Queens,” has died aged 92, his son Ben Stiller said on Twitter on Monday.
“I’m sad to say that my father, Jerry Stiller, passed away from natural causes,” wrote Ben, a Hollywood comedian who appeared with his father in “Zoolander” and other movies.
“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,” he added.
Jerry Stiller was part of a 1960s comedy team with wife Anne Meara. But he was in his mid-60s when he got what would become his signature acting role – Frank Costanza, father of ne’er-do-well George Costanza (played by Jason Alexander) on “Seinfeld,” a tense, bombastic man always on the verge of apoplexy.
In 1993, Stiller had thought his entertainment career was nearing an end when he got a phone call from Larry David, co-creator of “Seinfeld,” about joining the cast led by comedian Jerry Seinfeld.
The show, one of the most highly regarded in U.S. TV history, was in its fourth season at the time but Stiller said he had never watched a minute of it and had to ask, “Who’s Seinfeld?”
He was performing in a play at the time and had to turn down the TV job. Stiller got another chance at the role a few months later and took it.
Stiller was in only 26 of the 172 “Seinfeld” episodes but each appearance was memorable, whether he was screaming “serenity now!” in a tense situation, trying on a bra for men or explaining the odd rituals of Festivus, the Dec. 23 holiday he established as an alternative to Christmas.
Stiller said he was originally told to play Frank in a meek, understated manner in contrast to the character’s loud, shrill wife. A few days in, however, Stiller responded to one of the wife’s rants with an improvised tirade of his own and the show’s producers and cast liked it.
“And from that day on, it was the best years of my life as an actor because I worked with people who were the most generous actors in the world,” Stiller said in an interview with the Archive of American Television.
“Seinfeld” ended its nine-year run in 1998 and that same year Stiller moved into another sitcom dad role on “The King of Queens.” As Arthur Spooner, he played another blowhard oddball – although not quite as eruptive as Frank Costanza – living in the basement of the home of his daughter (played by Leah Remini) and her husband (Kevin James) through the show’s nine seasons.