Inside Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara's Bond Onstage and at Home: ‘We Were an Unlikely Couple’
Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara were married from 1954 until her death in 2015
The pair — who shared son Ben and daughter Amy — met in 1953, one year before their wedding. At the time, Stiller had graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in speech and drama, while Meara was working in summer stock (theaters that only present productions in the summer).
“It occurred to us that we were an unlikely couple,” Stiller told PEOPLE in 1977. "People would say to Anne, ‘Heh, you’re married to him?’ I thought we could use it.”
Soon enough, the pair teamed up professionally as the comedy duo Stiller & Meara on sketch shows throughout the 1960s, most notably, The Ed Sullivan Show.
But after also starring together in the Blue Nun commercials, the couple decided in the '70s that they did not want their respective careers to be determined by their marriage, and so they began pursuing independent acting gigs.
"I love Anne, but if I had depended on her in my professional life, I would have lost her as a wife," Stiller told PEOPLE. "We felt like two guys.”
Recalled Meara, “I didn’t know where the act ended and our marriage began.”
The decision to go their separate ways professionally proved successful for the couple. Stiller enjoyed a late-career resurgence in the '90s as George Costanza's father Frank on Seinfeld, which earned him an Emmy nomination, followed by his role as Arthur Spooner on The King of Queens from 1998 to 2007.
Meara, meanwhile, had steady success through dozens of TV and movie appearances, including her Emmy-nominated role as Veronica Rooney on Archie Bunker’s Place. She won a Writers Guild Award in 1983 for co-writing the TV movie The Other Woman, and was nominated for a Tony in 1993 for her role in play Anne Christie.
Although Stiller and Meara were no longer a dual comedy act on stage, their marriage grew stronger than ever.
"We’ve never really been on the same wavelength until recently," Meara said in the 1977 interview. "Jerry made an important discovery—that he was an entity."
“I always wanted things my way," the actress added. "I used to say everything he did was wrong. It was a marvelous thing to discover I could be wrong too."
Stiller and Meara reunited several times onscreen prior to her death, including on Archie Bunker's Place, as well as The King of Queens, where their characters married in the series finale. "We did miss our back and forth," Meara told the Los Angeles Times in 2010. "I love improvising with him."
On May 23, 2015, the couple's 61-year marriage came to a tragic end when Meara died at age 85.
"I miss her," Stiller said in an interview later that year, according to Country Living. "There were no walls between us in any way. We both knew what the other was thinking even when we weren't listening."