Legendary comedienne Phyllis Diller, who blazed a trail for a generation of female comics with her brash and self-deprecating stand-up routine, has died. She was 95 years old.
Diller had been suffering health problems as of late: She recently hurt her hip and wrist in a fall and has been living under hospice care at her Los Angeles home. She passed away there this morning, surrounded by family. Diller’s longtime manager, Milton Suchin, told The Associated Press, “She died peacefully in her sleep and with a smile on her face.”
The funny lady, known for her wild hair and distinctive laugh, often poked fun at her less-than-glamorous looks: She started out in 1952 filming a local TV special entitled “Phyllis Diller: The Homely Friendmaker.” She rose to fame with a series of TV specials alongside Bob Hope in the 1960s and later starred in several TV shows based around her stand-up act (“The Phyllis Diller Show,” “The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show”). She also frequently appeared on the seminal ’60s variety show “Laugh-In” and as the featured comedian on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.”
Before venturing into comedy at the relatively late age of 37, Diller was a housewife and a mother to five children. She built that domestic experience into her routines, mocking her own terrible cooking (“I can make a TV dinner taste like radio”) and her husband “Fang” (“Fang can’t stand to see trash and garbage lying around the house. He can’t stand the competition”). Diller was actually married twice (to Sherwood Diller for 26 years and Warde Donovan for nine) and divorced twice, but the fictional “Fang” remained a part of her act till the end.
In recent years, Diller took to joking about her extensive plastic surgery: “I’ve been done over so many times that no two parts of my body are the same age… When I die, God himself won’t know me.” And she reveled in her role as an elder statesman of comedy, outdoing much younger comedians in the 2005 documentary “The Aristocrats” and even performing a routine on “The Tonight Show” in 2007, at the tender age of 89. She also guest starred as one of William Shatner’s sexual conquests (!) in a 2007 episode of “Boston Legal” and voiced Peter Griffin’s mother on “Family Guy.”
Celebrities took to Twitter to commemorate Diller’s life, including many of the female comics she inspired. Joan Rivers said, “I’m beyond saddened by the death of Phyllis Diller. We were friends – Melissa and I had a wonderful time with her at lunch just a month ago.” Whoopi Goldberg chimed in to say, “A true original has died. Phyllis Diller There was NOOne like her, no 1looked like her sounded like her. A FUNNY FUNNY. Classy& Smart RIP.” And Ellen DeGeneres added, “We lost a comedy legend today. Phyllis Diller was the queen of the one-liners. She was a pioneer.”