In Memoriam: Phyllis Diller (July 17, 1917 – August 20, 2012)

Phyllis Diller at arrivals for Paley Center & TCM Present Debbie Reynolds'' Hollywood Memorabilia Exhibit, Paley Center for Media, Los Angeles, CA June 7, 2011. Photo By: Dee Cercone/Everett Collection

Phyllis Diller at arrivals for Paley Center & TCM Present Debbie Reynolds” Hollywood Memorabilia Exhibit, Paley Center for Media, Los Angeles, CA June 7, 2011. Photo By: Dee Cercone/Everett Collection

Braying, bigger-than-life comedienne Phyllis Diller died today (August 20) at her L.A. home. She was 95. One of the earliest female stand-up comics, she was playing nightclubs in the 1950s, and such TV hosts as Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan made her a star by 1960. A self-styled harridan, she emphasized her ungainly looks with fright-wig hair, drag-queen attire and “bwa-HA-ha-ha!” laugh (Diller morphed into an elegant beauty by the 1990s). She appeared in several movies, including Splendor in the Grass, Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!, The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell—her two most notable were a serious role in The Adding Machine and in the 2005 shockumentary The Aristocrats. Frequently a talk- and variety-show guest, Diller never succeeded with her own series, though her brief 1960s sitcom The Pruitts of Southampton is a fondly-remembered camp classic. Her self-mocking humor remained the staple of her act: “I was in a beauty contest once. I not only came in last, I was hit in the mouth by Miss Congeniality.” — Eve Golden



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