Comedian Phyllis Diller dies at 95
Published 20/08/2012 | 21:32
Phyllis Diller, the US housewife turned humourist who aimed some of her sharpest barbs at herself and punctuated her jokes with her trademark cackle, has died aged 95.
Her long-time manager Milton Suchin said: "She died peacefully in her sleep with a smile on her face."
The cause of her death, in Los Angeles, has not been released but Diller suffered a near-fatal heart attack in 1999.
She was a staple of nightclubs and television from the 1950s - when female comics were rare - until her retirement in 2002. Diller built her stand-up act around the persona of the corner-cutting housewife - "I bury a lot of my ironing in the back yard" - with bizarre looks, a wardrobe to match (by "Omar of Omaha") and a husband named "Fang".
She did not get into comedy until she was nearly 40, after her first husband Sherwood Diller 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. "We had five kids at the time. I don't how he thought we'd handle that," she said in 2006.
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. 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. Although she could be serious during interviews, sooner or later a joke would pop out, often as not followed by her outrageous laugh.
"It's my real laugh," she once said. "It's in the family. When I was a kid, my father called me the laughing hyena."
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.