Comedian and atheist Phyllis Diller, with strange hair-dos, wild clothing, self-depreciating jokes, and a trademark laugh, is dead at the age of 95. Those close to her said that Diller died in her sleep this morning at her home, with family, in Brentwood, California.
She was born in 1917, later married, and had five children. Allegedly, her husband encouraged her to become a comedian and eventually Joan Rivers was one of her prodigies. She broke into comedy during a time when it was difficult for women to become comedians, but she needed money. She inspired Joan Rivers, Whoopi Goldberg, and Ellen DeGeneres.
Joan Rivers recently appeared on "Watch What Happens Live" and said, Diller "broke the way for every woman comedian.”
She began her 50-year career at the Purple Onion, and talked about her fictitious husband, Fang. She was also a regular on talk shows, appeared in movies and TV with Bob Hope and Groucho Marx, as well as worked with Joan Rivers, and was a voice over in the movie “A Bugs Life”. Groucho Marx gave her, her start on TV, on the show “You Bet Your Life”.
Many of her one stage jokes included her fictitious husband "Fang" and her life.
"I don't like to cook; I can make a TV dinner taste like radio," she'd say.
"Fang's idea of a seven-course dinner is a six-pack and a bologna sandwich. The last time I said let's eat out, we ate in the garage."
"I put on a peekaboo blouse. He took a peek and booed."
Then she'd launch one of her patented guffaws: "Ah-HAA-haa-haa!"
In her private life, she was an atheist, but she once stated that her religion was kindness.
"We were not created by a deity. We created the deity in our image."
And in the November 2001 issue of A&U magazine Diller said:
"Religion is such a medieval idea. Don't get me started. I have thought about every facet of religion and I can't buy any of it."
Interviewed for a 2011 profile in Out magazine, Diller was asked how she'd want to be remembered. She replied:
"For being funny. Well, I should say being kind. I am a kind person. I'm kind to everybody. I treat everybody the same, and I'm proud of that. In fact, that's my religion."
During her skits, she would often complain about her looks and later in life, she had many cosmetic surgeries.
“Would you believe that I once entered a beauty contest?” she said. “I must have been out of my mind. I not only came in last, I got 361 get-well cards.”
According to the Washington Post, Diller had more than a dozen plastic surgeries, which she discussed candidly in her comedy routines, jokingly saying, “When I die, God won’t know me. There are no two parts of my body the same age. If I have one more facelift, it’ll be a cesarean.”
The L. A. Times said she had her teeth straightened, breast reduction, a tummy tuck, a brow lift, nose done, under-eye lift, cheek implants, tattoo eyeliner, chemical peel, and a face-lift.
"I never liked the way I looked, and you know what that does to your self-esteem," she told the Chicago Tribune in 1989. "I've never looked so good in my entire life."
She first went public with her face-lift in 1972. Her candor about her plastic surgeries later earned her an award from the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery as "the first person to have the courage to proclaim her surgery and show her results publicly."
As for the unlit cigarette she sometimes used in earlier skits, she stated that she felt like she needed something in her hand for when she raised it and called it an attention getter.
Various entertainers, including Joan Rivers and Ellen DeGeneres, released statements about her death.
"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," her statement to Access Hollywood read. "The only tragedy is that she was the last from an era that insisted a woman had to look funny in order to be funny. If she had started today, Phyllis could have stood there in Dior and Harry Wiston and become the major star that she was. I adored her."
Ellen DeGeneres wrote, "We lost a comedy legend today. Phyllis Diller was the queen of the one-liners. She was a pioneer."
Both her marriages ended in divorce.
Her son, Perry, her daughters, Sally Diller and Suzanne Mills, four grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter, survive her.