Tributes were pouring in Sunday night for acclaimed actress Anne Meara, always the saner half in her six decades of comedy magic with her surviving husband Jerry Stiller, after news of her death was confirmed by her family.
Stiller, 87, and Meara, 85, were Brooklyn-born groundbreakers in their day.
First off: They were a husband and wife and team who got equal billing.
And second, they brought to American homes across the continent a concept that is still very much part of our collective national story: this unstoppable blending of culture, religion and race. A melting pot, indeed, that is part of the identity of our biracial U.S president, Barack Obama.
In the case of “Stiller and Meara,” the story came with side-splitting laughter on both Ed Sullivan’s stage and Johnny Carson’s.
Like the time a newfangled thing called computer dating matched the very Irish lass Mary Elizabeth Doyle with the distinctly non-Irish Hershey Horowitz.
In real life, Meara would actually wind up converting to reform Judaism six years into her six-decade marriage because of her opposition to church teachings.,
When she and Stiller weren’t doing bits together, they also each cultivated independent careers. He, most famously, as the more-than-slightly-off Frank Costanza in Seinfeld.
The two had as many flops as successes. Her list of roles included one as a flight attendant on “Rhoda;” the title role in the short-lived series, Kate McShane on CBS; Carroll O’Connor ’s co-star in the hit All in the Family spin-off, Archie Bunker’s Place ; and the short-lived sit-com opposite Stiller in The Stiller and Meara Show .
“Stiller and Meara have been a wonderful presence in comedy my whole life. Now Anne Meara is gone, and I salute her,” actor/comedian Steve Martin tweeted.
Rosie O’Donnell tweeted that it was with “heavy heart” that she learned the news.’
From Al Roker: “Ann Meara, I/2 of one of the greatest comedy duos ever, Stiller & Meara passed at 85. As lovely as she was funny.”
Meara spread her wings beyond the realm of comedy; she was a teacher in the movie Fame and took on several complex roles that showed her emotional range, including one as a victim’s mom on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit .
Meara also could make us cry. With brutal honesty, she played the spiraling mother-in-law to Cynthia Nixon’s Miranda in Sex and the City. Meara’s portrayal of Alzheimer’s-stricken Mary Brady hit the complex range of emotions the horrid mind-wasting disease brings to both its victims and families.
“Anne’s memory lives on in the hearts of daughter Amy, son Ben, her grandchildren, her extended family and friends, and the millions she entertained as an actress, writer and comedienne,” the family’s statement said.
Besides Jerry Stiller and son, Ben, she is also survived by her daughter, Amy, and several grandchildren.
No cause of death was given.