Comedy legend Anne Meara, an actress first known for her stand-up routine alongside husband Jerry Stiller, has died at 85. Stiller and son Ben Stiller said in a statement that Meara died Saturday but did not release any details on the cause of death. The statement issued to the Associated Press described Jerry Stiller as Meara’s “husband and partner in life.” “The two were married for 61 years and worked together almost as long,” the statement said.
The Brooklyn-born Meara met Stiller in 1953 at an agent’s office. The two were married in 1954, and Meara converted to Judaism, according to the Hollywood Reporter. They later mastered their improv skills at Chicago’s the Compass Players, whose members went on to form Second City. It wasn’t long before they were performing as Stiller & Meara, and a gig on Merv Griffin’s talent showcase led to their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, where they performed a total of 36 times, according to Reuters. Their act often played off their differences, and they created the “uber-Jewish guy” Hershey Horowitz and “uber-Irish girl” Mary Elizabeth Doyle, which they later described as caricatures of themselves, notes CNN. Meara and Stiller also took the time to pursue purely commercial endeavors and they “made a handsome living endorsing everything from banks to disposable lighters to moving companies—and wine,” notes the Hollywood Reporter.
The pair broke up their act in 1970, saying it was a necessary step if they hoped to save their marriage. “I love Anne, but if I had depended on her in my professional life, I would have lost her as a wife. We felt like two guys,” Stiller told People in 1977. Meara agreed: “I didn’t know where the act ended and our marriage began.” Meara went on to appear in many TV shows, including Rhoda, The Love Boat, ALF, and, more recently, Sex and the City and King of Queens, to name a few. She also acted in several movies, including The Out of Towners, Fame, Reality Bites, and Night at the Museum.
Ben Stiller took to Twitter on Monday to thank fans for their support.