According to a statement released to the Associated Press, actress and comedian Anne Meara died on Saturday, May 23. She was 85.
Meara was a groundbreaking comedian and a part of one of the longest personal/professional duos imaginable; according to the AP statement, Meara and her husband Jerry Stiller “were married for 61 years and worked together almost as long.” Stiller and Meara began their comedy partnership as part of the improv group The Compass Players, which pre-dated Second City in the 1960s. In their act, Meara and Stiller played up the differences in their marriage (the Brooklyn-born, Irish Meara converted to Judaism when she married Stiller in 1954), most famously in their “Hershey Horowitz/Mary Elizabeth Doyle” routine. The popular duo appeared in radio comercials and on The Ed Sullivan Show 36 times.
Apart from Stiller, Meara also acted independently on TV, screen, and stage. On TV, Meara developed her persona as a tough but compassionate, no-nonsense type with heart. This won her her own drama in the ’70s, the short-lived Kate McShane (which earned her an Emmy nomination as Best Actress). TV watchers of that decade will also remember her as Rhoda’s friend (Golden Globe nomination) or as the cook on Archie Bunker’s Place (two Emmy nominations). She went on to appear on shows as disparate as Alf, All My Children, and Oz. More recent television audiences saw Meara as Steve’s mom (and eventually Miranda’s mother-in-law) in Sex And The City. She also made several guest appearances on her husband’s sitcom King Of Queens, and received her final Emmy nomination for a guest role on Homicide.
On screen, Meara made her movie debut in 1970’s The Out-Of-Towners. Ten years later, she made an indelible impression as the long-suffering teacher who tried to teach those dancing and singing performing-arts kids English in Fame. But perhaps the movie role for which she will be most remembered is as Hope Davis’ mother in the 1996 indie film The Daytrippers, boldly leading her family’s journey into New York City to find her wayward son-in-law.
Meara made her Broadway debut in 1956’s A Month In The Country. She appeared on stage off and on for many years before receiving a Tony nomination in 1993 for her role in Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie. A playwright as well, a few of her plays were produced Off Broadway; she won a Writers Guild Award for the comedy anthology The Other Woman, in which she also starred.
Stiller and Meara have two children: actress/writer Amy, and actor/writer/director Ben, who often casts his parents in his movies. You can spot Meara in Reality Bites as the interviewer who asks Winona Ryder to define irony, and as a protestor in Zoolander.
Since Meara’s death on Saturday, comedy legends of all types have flooded Twitter with tributes. Steve Martin said, “Stiller and Meara have been a wonderful presence in comedy my whole life,” and Michael McKean, called her “funny forever.” Her son simply stated: “All of us in our family feel so lucky to have had her in our lives.”