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Actor And Comedian Jerry Stiller Dies At 92


Most actors are known for the ability to convey a wide range of feelings. Jerry Stiller made a name for himself in later years doing anger - a really funny brand of anger. The comic actor has died at the age of 92. His son, actor Ben Stiller, says his father died of natural causes. Reporter Alex Cohen has this remembrance.

ALEX COHEN, BYLINE: Jerry Stiller never had the looks of a leading man. The short Jewish actor was perhaps best known for his work on "Seinfeld," where he played Frank Costanza, George Costanza's hot-headed father.


JERRY STILLER: (As Frank Costanza) Serenity now. Serenity Now.

JASON ALEXANDER: (As George Costanza) What is that?

J STILLER: (As Frank) The doctor gave me a relaxation cassette. When my blood pressure gets too high, the man on the tape tells me to say serenity now.


COHEN: On the show. Actress Estelle Harris played his wife, but offscreen his real love was another actress. His wife Anne Meara was a beautiful red-haired Irish Catholic, and the two appeared regularly as a comic duo. Here they are on "The Ed Sullivan Show."


ANNE MEARA: (As character) How long have we been seeing each other?

J STILLER: (As character) Eight months...

MEARA: (As character) Well, that's a long time. I mean, for two people...

J STILLER: (As character) ...Twenty-three days...

MEARA: (As character) ...To see only on each other.

J STILLER: (As character) ...Seventeen hours...

MEARA: (As character) I think we should see other people.

J STILLER: (As character) ...Twenty-two minutes.

COHEN: Jerry Stiller was born in Brooklyn in 1927. After serving in World War II, he pursued a career as an actor. The choice to team with Anne Meara was a practical move motivated by love, as Jerry Stiller once told the Archive of American Television.


J STILLER: We wanted to keep the marriage together. She being tall and kind of beautiful-looking and me being what I look like, we never got jobs together.

COHEN: Stiller and Meara enjoyed success together for many years, but eventually, they decided to pursue careers on their own. After stints on Broadway and on several TV shows in the 1970s, Jerry Stiller's most notable role came in the early '90s when he joined the cast of "Seinfeld," replacing another actor. During an interview included in the "Seinfeld" DVD box set, the actor said producer Larry David told him they were looking for something a bit different.


J STILLER: The other thing - he says, I want you to understand; you're working with a lady who screams a lot, and I want you to play it down.

COHEN: Stiller initially did that but felt the approach wasn't working. So in a final dress rehearsal in front of a live audience, the actor tried something else.


J STILLER: She said, you're the one that ruined his life. You were never there for him. You were an absentee father. And instead of just saying my lines, I said, you're the one who slept in bed with him. You made sandwiches for him every night. You coddled him. You turned him into a dependent - well, everybody starts screaming laughing.

COHEN: Jerry Stiller went on to earn an Emmy nomination for his work as Frank Costanza. Years later, he played another furious father on the show "King Of Queens."


J STILLER: (As Arthur Spooner) These are Oktoberfest pictures. They have to get to my cousin before June 1.

KEVIN JAMES: (As Doug Heffernan) So then put two stamps on them. Put 10 on. What do you care? It's not like you're paying for them.


COHEN: Jerry Stiller was also a father in real life but not one fueled by anger. During an interview with NPR, his son, actor Ben Stiller, said his dad was always amazing, supportive and hilarious.


BEN STILLER: My dad is just, you know, naturally funny as a person. I feel like, you know, he just can't help but be funny because he's so committed to who he is.

COHEN: Ben Stiller said his mother's humor tended to be dark, but his father's was always intended to bring joy and perhaps a bit of serenity now to others.

For NPR News, I'm Alex Cohen.

(SOUNDBITE OF JONATHAN WOLFF'S "SEINFELD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alex Cohen is the reporter for NPR's fastest-growing daily news program, Day to Day where she has covered everything from homicides in New Orleans to the controversies swirling around the frosty dessert known as Pinkberry.