NBC News, reporting Jerry Stiller’s death, touts heaven

The great comedian Jerry Stiller, who often performed with his wife Anne Meara, passed away this morning at age 92. Reporting on his life and comedy, NBC News finished the report with these words:

“Meara passed away five years ago. Now this legendary pair is laughing together again.”

Now if that isn’t a paean to togetherness in the afterlife, you tell me what it is. You might be able to confect a tortuous interpretation, like a Sophisticated Theologian®, but I see the words as a sop to the religious.

We are constantly inundated by these nods towards religion and religionists, and this is one of them. It sounds good, doesn’t it? But it’s a lie.

Let’s just watch them laugh together when they were alive. Here they are on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, with Meara trying to kiss off her ardent boyfriend.


  1. eric
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    On top of the religious reference to heaven being gratuitous, the Stillers are Jewish.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      Yeah and probably atheists.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      Haha I searched “Ben Stiller atheist” in Google as I suspected that Ben Stiller is an atheist and the first hits are all Sam Harris.

      • Posted May 11, 2020 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

        Well, then Ben is up there with Meara shouting Yiddish curse words at NBC. Of course cursing is allowed in heaven.

        • Kathleen Beattie
          Posted May 11, 2020 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

          It’s Jerry Stiller who died, not Ben.

    • Posted May 11, 2020 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      I am Jewish … some Jews believe in an afterlife. I am going to research that now! -Sid Colton

  2. James Heard
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    It seemed more like NBC was paying obeisance to the craft that Stiller and Meara performed on the stage than any real promotion of Christian afterlife

    • Posted May 11, 2020 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

      So that’s your nonreligious interpretation of “Now this legendary pair is laughing together again.” Note the words “Now” and “again”.
      I think you’re really stretching it here.

    • ubernez
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

      You are correct.
      I am as strong an atheist, humanist, secularist as can be…and an not triggered or suspicious of the wording.
      Such per(s)nickety-ness is just jumping the shark.
      I DO get the objection…
      Still, sharks below…

      (lucky i am posting this in my safe space)

  3. Posted May 11, 2020 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a good behind-the-scenes clip of Jerry Stiller in a Seinfeld episode:

  4. Carey Haug
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Not sure whether Anne Meara was Jewish. But it does raise an interesting question if you believe in an afterlife. Do couples from mixed marriages reunite in the afterlife? Do Christian/Muslim wives have to put up with their martyred husbands raping virgins? Do you have to convert to go to your spouse’s heaven or do the Gods have a special Heaven for mixed religion marriages? What about Buddhists who believe in reincarnation. Do the partners get to be with their beloved in the next life?

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      Meara was catholic, but I don’t hold it against her and nether did Jerry.

    • Historian
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      Per Wikipedia:

      Meara was born, baptised and raised a Roman Catholic. She converted to Judaism six years after marrying Stiller. She insisted that she did not convert at Stiller’s request, explaining, “Catholicism was dead to me.” She took her conversion seriously and studied the Jewish faith in such depth that her Jewish-born husband quipped, “Being married to Anne has made me more Jewish.”

    • eric
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      I believe the official Christian answer on mixed religious marriages is:
      1. The non-Christian goes to hell.
      2. The Christian goes to heaven, where they are eternally blissful and somehow don’t mind that their spouse is in hell.

      • Doug
        Posted May 12, 2020 at 6:30 am | Permalink

        “. . .somehow doesn’t mind that their spouse is in hell.”

        There is a quote by some saint [I’ve been trying to find it, but can’t] that part of the joy of Heaven is watching sinners–including one’s parents and children–roasting for all eternity in Hell. You will rejoice to see these enemies of God getting what’s coming to them, even if they are family members.

        I’ve got joy, joy, joy down in my heart . . .

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 11, 2020 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

      If the Ancients are any indication, you are still pissed with your boyfriend in the after life and you get back together with your dead husband while giving the stink eye to your shit boyfriend. At least according to Dido & Aeneas.

  5. phoffman56
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I agree 100%.

    Also, re:

    “The great comedian Jerry Stiller, … passed away ….”

    perhaps the “passed away” was needed to get the click to work.

    We all surely prefer just plain ‘died’.

    I’d even go further with ‘ceased to exist’.

    Even ‘went to oblivion’, if travelling is de rigeur.

    This getting to be John Cleese’s Norwegian Blue.

    Even Nansen didn’t get to eat any of them on the Hardanger Plateau, though he and Johannsen ate about a dozen polar bears, cooked with walrus grease, north of Siberia. They emerged from their 15 months, 1000 km trudge, on the north polar ice in 1895, weighing more than they had done to begin.

    My ‘jump topics’ mental peculiarity is back in high gear.

  6. JezGrove
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    The “together again” trope isn’t unusual in reports of recent deaths, with news outlets quoting the relatives or friends of the deceased expressing that erroneous belief. I can’t remember seeing a publisher saying it with their own voice though – that certainly crosses a line.

  7. Posted May 11, 2020 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    -grin- even atheists want a bit of immortality. To me, Stiller and Meara will remain immortal so long as their art touches people. I watched that comedy skit just now and became a fan. That’s ‘after life’ enough for me.

    • Posted May 12, 2020 at 2:18 am | Permalink

      The only way I am interested in achieving immortality is by not dying.

      [stolen from Woody Allen]

      • Posted May 12, 2020 at 7:45 am | Permalink

        lol – he is a very smart man.

  8. George
    Posted May 11, 2020 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    Both Stills and Meara were members of the Compass Players, an improvisational comedy troupe that started at the University of Chicago and lasted from 1955-58. Some of the members of Compass then went on to found The Second City. So the biggest influence in American and Canadian (watch SCTV) comedy since the 1950s. Who knew UofC could be so funny.

    The membership of Compass is astonishing – Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Shelly Berman, and many more.

    • Dominic
      Posted May 12, 2020 at 1:03 am | Permalink

      “Who knew UofC could be so funny.“ – they employed dear old PCC[E] ! 🤣😙

  9. Dominic
    Posted May 12, 2020 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    Let us get rid of this ridiculous term to pass away- what was he Messi? People die, it happens. I will die – I refuse to “pass away”! 😌

  10. Posted May 12, 2020 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    It’s almost ingrained, Jerry. I wonder if the people who say it, as if by rote, actually believe it. I have a sister who, at Easter, is all over Facebook writing, “He is risen.” But I can’t recall the last time she was in a church.

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