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Jerry Stiller (1927–2020), comedian who played Frank Costanza on “Seinfeld”

by Linnea Crowther

Jerry Stiller was a comedian and actor best known for playing Frank Costanza on “Seinfeld.”

A life in showbiz

A Brooklyn, New York, native, Stiller was born June 8, 1927. He studied drama at Syracuse University, graduating in 1950, and soon began working in local theaters and clubs. Not long after, he met – and soon married – Anne Meara (1929 – 2015), also a performer. The couple began working together as comedy team Stiller & Meara, appearing on TV shows including “The Ed Sullivan Show” – more than 30 times. The couple also starred on a short-lived sitcom, “The Stiller and Meara Show.”

Stiller’s signature role came in the 1990s with “Seinfeld.” He played Frank Costanza, George’s cranky father, who invented the December holiday Festivus. His memorable lines included a loudly shouted “Serenity now!” The performance won Stiller an American Comedy Award as well as an Emmy nomination. Not long after his time on “Seinfeld” ended, Stiller took a role on “The King of Queens,” playing Arthur Spooner, Carrie’s father.


Stiller also appeared in movies, including “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” both the 1988 and 2007 versions of “Hairspray,” and “Zoolander,” which starred his son, Ben Stiller.

Stiller and Meara were honored with a joint star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is survived by their children, Ben and Amy Stiller, both actors.

Stiller on developing his Frank Costanza character

“I read my line gently, as I had been told, and it was as if a pall fell over the room. So I did the scene again, and this time I really screamed. Everybody broke up laughing. Then Jason [Alexander] asked me to hit him. I didn’t want to, but he encouraged me to really let him have it. I did, and it got another huge laugh. And now screaming and hitting are my trademarks.” —from a 1996 interview with USA Today

What people said about him

Full obituary: The New York Times

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