Stiller and wife Anne Meara were early advocates for seatbelt use.
Jerry Stiller, the legendary comedian who died May 11, 2020, was memorialized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Twitter for appearing with wife and fellow comedian Anne Meara in a public service announcement advocating for seatbelt use. The comedy duo appeared in at least two ads in the late 1960s promoting the safety feature.
One, which the NHTSA tweeted, features an eager Meara, ready to take her turn behind the wheel of what looks like an older Mercedes sedan. Chastised by her husband for not fastening her seatbelt, Meara rebuts with a few common reasons for not buckling up – it’s uncomfortable, and she’s a good driver anyway. In his classic, curmudgeonly way, Stiller says that if she’s rear-ended, her face could end up in the windshield, ruining the glass. He then threatens to never talk to her again if she doesn’t buckle up, emotionally inferring that she could die in a crash and leave him widowed. At that, she smiles and clicks in.
When the pair appeared for the NHTSA, safety belt use was uncommon at the time – seat belts were even optional equipment on some cars until a 1968 federal ruling made them mandatory in all designated seating positions. Today, not wearing a seatbelt is still only a secondary offense in 15 states, meaning a driver can’t be pulled over solely for not buckling up.
The husband-and-wife duo formed a comedy act called Stiller & Meara in the 1960s, appearing regularly on The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. The pair dissolved the routine in 1970, remaining married and continuing to perform separately and together in different projects. Stiller was most famous in his later years playing George Costanza’s father on Seinfeld. Meara preceded him in death in 2015.
In addition to the NHTSA tweet, dozens of celebrities and uncountable fans have offered condolences over Stiller’s death.