And so it goes that we must bid a fond adieu to Len Lesser, a.k.a. the talented character actor who played Uncle Leo for nine classic seasons of Seinfeld. Lesser passed away Wednesday at age 88, from cancer-related pneumonia. And though he may have only appeared in 15 episodes, his comic creation was indelible—an unkempt shoplifting enthusiast who was always thrilled to see you, grabbed your arm when he talked, and blamed anything he didn’t like on antisemitism. I don’t know about you, but my family had several Uncle Leos. (Maybe it’s a New Yorkish thing.)
A perusal of Lesser’s IMDb page reveals he’s been working steadily in TV since the dawn of the medium, debuting way back in 1949 (network broadcasting only began in ‘48) on Westinghouse Studio One. Through the years he appeared on such classics as The Munsters, Get Smart, Bonanza, and Kojak. But it wasn’t until the ‘90s, and a groundbreaking show about nothing, that Lesser would find a permanent and lasting place in the pop culture pantheon.
So, one last time for the road, we leave you with Uncle Leo—in all his avuncular, polyester-leisure-suit-wearing, “JARRY! HALLOOO!”-shouting glory. R.I.P.