THERAPY MADE BEN STILLER'S FAMILY CLOSER

Published on: March 26, 2004

"Starsky & Hutch" star Ben Stiller says he loves, admires and respects his famous dad Jerry -- but their once-rocky relationship has come a long way from the days the family was in therapy.

Speaking with unusual candor in an exclusive interview, Ben admits, "Sure, I had my problems with my dad when I was younger. There were some issues, like 'Why weren't you around more when I was a little kid?'

"We went to family therapy when I was about 20 years old to sort out our problems. My dad was so concerned with wanting us to be close that he did that for me. And it worked. With therapy, we bonded and became closer than ever.

"I think some of my anger stemmed from the natural rebellion that young people feel regarding their parents. But you know, I never really had anything HUGE to rebel about."

A lot of stars blame their parents for the problems they have today -- but you'll never catch Ben playing the blame game!

"I hate it when people publicly bash their parents. I love my dad too much for that. After we went through therapy together and discussed everything we ever wanted to tell each other, we became best friends."

Ben enjoys getting together as often as possible with his talented 76-year-old dad Jerry -- who played George Costanza's father on "Seinfeld" and currently stars on "King of Queens."

"We like eating breakfast together before going off to our acting jobs," Ben says with a laugh.

"I'm proud of my dad and I love him. He taught me morals, values, how to be a decent human being. He's a cool guy."

Jerry is just as wild about Ben as Ben is about him. He's proud to admit he loves his comic son "like crazy."

"When Ben was born, it was a beautiful day," recalls Jerry, who's been married to comedienne Anne Meara for 50 years. As a youngster, Ben had trouble adjusting to his parents' hectic show business life.

"I often assumed that everyone had a dad who went on TV and made people laugh," says Ben -- now married to actress Christine Taylor and father of a beautiful 2-year-old daughter.

"My parents were away from home a lot, doing shows in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. My sister Amy and I would watch our parents on television and believe me -- that's surreal!

"I remember going up to the TV and trying to talk to them!

"But the summers were fun. My parents took me on the road when they did their comedy show."

Revealed Jerry: "I knew Ben was going to be funny when he grew up. He laughed and giggled all the time, even as a baby. He thought everything his mom and I did was funny -- even before he could walk or talk.

"Ben and his sister Amy learned how to have a sharp sense of humor from me and their mom, but Ben has his own unique humor, too.

"I am a guy who gets embarrassed over any joke that's even slightly risque. But when Ben does that physical shtick in films -- the gross-out stuff -- I really laugh because he does it so well."

Ben's loving dad has always been there when Ben needed him.

"As a teenager I went through a terrible awkward time," divulged Ben, 38. "I had pimples and I wasn't popular. I was a geek. I was tormented by bullies. I had very few friends and I never felt I belonged.

"My dad always knew when I was troubled and he would take the time to talk to me. Even if it was by telephone, he was there for me. He was incredible and open and warm and spiritual.

"He taught me how to make people laugh and how to feel empathy and emotion. He taught me the importance of reaching out to others and caring for friends and loved ones."

Says Jerry: "I love Ben so much ? and I'm proud to be his dad." Concludes Ben: "I couldn't have asked for a better father." -- PATRICIA NOLAN