Remembering Jerry Stiller's Hilarious Career and Full Life in Photos
The actor and comedy legend died at age 92 in May 2020
Born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 8, 1927, Jerry Stiller was the oldest of four children and grew up in Manhattan. As a teen, he entered the Army, then went on to Syracuse University, where he studied drama.
"I had a tremendous macho complex and was a very bad soldier," he told PEOPLE in a 1977 interview. At Syracuse, "Girls weren't interested in me. They thought I was weird," he said. "I was always putting people on, trying to be funny."
Comedy did, however, bring him to the love of his life, Anne Meara, who saw through his humor. According to their 1977 PEOPLE profile, they met in a theatrical agent's office after both had been turned down for a new play.
"She said, 'Why don't you just be what you are?' In two months we were married," he recalled to PEOPLE of their 1954 nuptials.
The couple decided to collaborate, launching a comedy career that began in Chicago and took them on up to The Ed Sullivan Show. But by the early 1970s they parted ways professionally, with her moving into movies and TV and him eventually following.
"I love Anne, but if I had depended on her in my professional life," Stiller told PEOPLE in 1977, "I would have lost her as a wife." Added Meara, "I didn't know where the act ended and our marriage began."
The two went on to have one of Hollywood's longest-lasting marriages (Meara passed away on May 23, 2015), and two children, actors Amy and Ben.
Stiller spent the 1980s on game shows, guest TV roles and in films like Hairspray and The Ritz. But he really hit it big with audiences when he joined the cast of Seinfeld in 1993 as George Costanza's loud father, Frank.
Jason Alexander, who played George, remembered his TV dad on Twitter following the news of his death, sharing a photo captioned, "Yeah. I adored this man." He added, "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."
After Seinfeld ended in 1998 he stayed in the "older TV dad" lane, playing Leah Remini's father on the sitcom King of Queens until 2007.
Both of Stiller and Meara's children followed their parents into show business, with Ben stepping particularly into the spotlight, often collaborating with his famous father.
Ben was the one to announce his father's death on May 11, 2020, writing on Twitter, "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."
Still a package deal in their later years, Stiller and Meara received a joint star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007.
Ben and Jerry collaborated on screen a handful of times, including in both Zoolander and Zoolander 2, with Ben as the title character and Jerry as shady agent Maury Ballsteen. The 2016 sequel — directed by Ben — was Jerry's last film role before his death.
The actor died at home in New York City in May 2020. Tributes poured in from celebrities around the globe, with King of Queens costars Kevin James and Leah Remini sharing memories on Instagram.
James praised Jerry as "one of the most loving, kind, and funny people to ever grace this earth," while Remini said she "will be forever grateful for the memories" they shared making the hit sitcom.