The 92-year-old Stiller’s show-business career spanned more than half a century — from the 1960s as part of a comedy team with his wife Anne Meara to acting in the 2016 film, “Zoolander 2,” directed and co-written by his son Ben.
But it was Stiller’s cantankerous and ever-shouting Frank Costanza on “Seinfeld” that made him beloved. Even when Frank sought to find some level of peace by repeating the words from a relaxation tape intended to bring down his blood pressure, he would say it while screaming: “Serenity now!”
The social-media outpouring of love for Stiller was moving after Ben Stiller announced
the passing of his father. Twitter became in essence an interactive memorial for people to share their favorite memories of Stiller’s work as an actor.
Young and old, famous and unknown posted clips that celebrated Stiller’s “Seinfeld” persona, from “Serenity Now” to “Del Boca Vista” (the condo development in Florida that Frank claimed Jerry Seinfeld’s parents on the show were trying to keep him out of) to — of course — “Festivus,” one of the show’s most famous episodes. If you don’t know what that means, stop reading now and go watch the episode where Frank shares the tale of a new holiday being born: “a Festivus for the rest of us!”
The interesting thing is that Stiller’s best-known character wasn’t written to be played the way Stiller brought him to life. Rather, he was conceived as a milquetoast comedic foil to actress Estelle Harris, who was playing her character Estelle Costanza bigger than life.
However, as Stiller told USA Today back in 1996, when he delivered the lines in a more natural way, no one in the room laughed. So, drawing on his decades of experience as a comedic actor, he reinvented the character on the spot, transforming him from soft spoken to “this time I really screamed.” The result was big laughs and the birth of a character that led to a 1997 Emmy nomination for Stiller and a classic comedic role that solidified his legacy.
Stiller’s career, though, was built on far more than just being a guy who yelled at people on “Seinfeld.” He and the late Meara became a famous comedy duo in the 1960’s, appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” more than 30 times from 1963 to 1971 and playing off their contrasting ethnicities as an Irish-Catholic woman and a Jewish man.
Al Franken today on Twitter expressed
his “love and admiration” for the support the two gave Franken and his former comedy partner Tom Davis in the 1970s when they were first starting out in New York City comedy scene.
After “Seinfeld,” Stiller saw great success on CBS’s “King of Queens” as the father-in-law Arthur Spooner from 1998 to 2007. He also appeared on Broadway and in countless movies. But to most, Stiller will be remembered forever as Frank Costanza — as was clear on Twitter Monday.
Stiller’s co-star on “Seinfeld,” Jason Alexander — who played his son, George — put it so well
with his tweet Monday about the late actor: “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…I love you.”
Stiller made us laugh and love him by yelling at us. And for both reasons, he will be sorely missed.