Phyllis Diller died this morning in her Los Angeles home at age 95. She faced the end, fittingly, “with a smile on her face,” longtime manager Milton Suchin told The Associated Press.
Diller, who suffered a near-fatal heart attack in 1999, was found by her son, Perry Diller. The cause of her death has not been released.
“We lost a comedy legend today,” Ellen DeGeneres wrote on Twitter. “Phyllis Diller was the queen of the one-liners. She was a pioneer.”
Barbra Streisand tweeted, “I adored her. She was wondrous spirit who was great to me.”
“I'm beyond saddened by the death of Phyllis Diller. We were friends," Joan Rivers wrote, Rivers adding that she and her daughter had lunched with Diller last month
The queen of one-liners, with a trademark cackling laugh, Diller didn't get into comedy until she was nearly 40, after her first husband, Sherwood Diller, prodded her for two years to give up her advertising career. Through it all, she was also a busy mother of five.
Her husband managed her career until the couple’s 25-year marriage fell apart in the 1960s. Shortly after her divorce she married entertainer Warde Donovan, but they separated within months. Through both marriages and other relationships, “Fang,” the permanent fictional husband of her stand-up routines, remained.
“Don't confuse him with my real husbands,” she quipped. “They're temporary.”
Diller worked steadily for decades, in nightclubs and on television. She built her stand-up act around the persona of the corner-cutting housewife (“I bury a lot of my ironing in the backyard”) with bizarre looks, a wardrobe to match (by “Omar of Omaha”) and, of course, her faithful Fang.
Time magazine wrote in 1961: “Onstage comes something that, by its own description, looks like a sackful of doorknobs. With hair dyed by Alcoa, pipe-cleaner limbs and knees just missing one another when the feet are wide apart, this is not Princess Volupine. It is Phyllis Diller, the poor man’s Auntie Mame, only successful female among the New Wave comedians and one of the few women funny and tough enough to belt out a ‘standup’ act of one-line gags.”
She also appeared in movies, including “Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number” and “Eight on the Lam” with Bob Hope. She starred in an ABC sitcom about a society family trying to stave off bankruptcy, “The Pruitts of Southampton.”
Diller’s looks were a frequent topic of her humor, and she did everything she could to accentuate them – negatively. She wore outrageous fright wigs and deliberately shopped for stage shoes that made her legs look as skinny as possible.
“The older I get, the funnier I get,” she said in 1961. “Think what I'll save in not having my face lifted.”
She felt different about plastic surgery later, though, and her face, and other body parts, underwent a remarkable transformation. Efforts to be beautiful became a mainstay of her act.
Commenting in 1995 about the repainting of the Hollywood sign, she cracked, “It took 300 gallons, almost as much as I put on every morning.” She said her home “used to be haunted, but the ghosts haven't been back since the night I tried on all my wigs.”
Diller recovered from a 1999 heart attack with the help of a pacemaker, but finally retired in 2002, saying advancing age was making it too difficult for her to spend several weeks a year on the road. “I have energy, but I don't have lasting energy,” she said in 2006. “You have to know your limitations.”
- From AP reports