Actress and comedian ;
Born: July 17, 1917; Died: August 20, 2012.
Phyllis Diller, who has died aged 95 in her sleep, was an American housewife turned humourist who aimed some of her sharpest barbs at herself and punctuated her jokes with her trademark cackle.
She was a staple of US nightclubs and television from the 1950s – when female comics were rare – until her retirement in 2002 and built her stand-up act around the persona of the corner-cutting housewife with bizarre looks, a wardrobe to match and a husband named Fang.
Diller said of herself in 1965: "I was one of those life-of-the-party types. You'll find them in every bridge club, at every country club. People invited me to parties only because they knew I would supply some laughs. They still do."
Born Phyllis Driver in Lima, Ohio, she married Sherwood Diller right out of school and was a housewife for several years before getting outside work.
She was working as an advertising writer for a radio station when a comedy turn at San Francisco's Purple Onion nightclub launched her toward stardom.
She did not get into comedy until she was nearly 40, after her husband prodded her for two years to give up a successful career as an advertising and radio writer. Through it all, she was also a busy mother of five children.
She made her network TV debut as a contestant on Groucho Marx's game show You Bet Your Life.
Her husband managed her career until their 25-year marriage fell apart in the 1960s. Shortly after her divorce she married entertainer Warde Donovan, but they separated within months.
She also appeared in movies, including Boy, Did I Get A Wrong Number and Eight On The Lam with Bob Hope.
In 1966/67, she was the star of an ABC sitcom about a society family trying to stave off bankruptcy, The Pruitts Of Southampton. Gypsy Rose Lee played a nosy neighbour. In 1968, she was host of a short-lived variety series, The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show. But stand-up comedy was her first love, and when she broke into the business in 1956 it was a field she had largely to herself because female comics were not widely accepted.
She 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.
After retiring from stand-up, Diller continued to take occasional small parts in movies and TV shows, including Family Guy, and pursued painting as a serious hobby. She published her autobiography Like A Lampshade In A Whorehouse, in 2005. The 2006 film Goodnight, We Love You documented her career.
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