Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Comedian Phyllis Diller dies at 95

US stand-up comedian Phyllis Diller has died at age 95 in Los Angeles (AP)

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.

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