Phyllis Diller, who pioneered the way for female stand-up comics and has a multi-faceted career that included Las Vegas, Broadway and movies, has died, her agent confirms. She was 95.
Although she often portrayed herself as scatter-brained in her act, she was anything but. She had a successful career as an advertising and radio writer before venturing into stand-up comedy at the age of 40.
Diller retired in 2002 and had lived quietly. She gave birth to five children, and her son Perry, was the one who found her. She’d died in her sleep, her longtime manager, Milton Suchin, told The Associated Press. “She died peacefully in her sleep with a smile on her face,” he added.
Phyllis Diller Over the Years
Diller always said she had a natural comedic talent. “I was one of those life-of-the-party types,” she said in a 1965 interview.
“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.”
Her husband at the time, Sherwood Diller, encouraged her to give up her successful advertising and radio writing to try comedy full-time. She started doing stand-up in the 1950s, when female comics were few and far between.
At a time following World War II, when America was focused on perfecting family life in the fast-growing suburbs, Diller was the anti-housewife. In 1961, Time magazine called her “the poor man’s Auntie Mame, only successful female among the New Wave comedians and one of the few women funny and tough enough to belt out a ‘standup’ act of one-line gags.”
She often appeared on stage in a housecoat and curlers, smoking a cigarette and drinking a glass of bourbon. Even though she was married twice, her mythical husband “Fang” was always a part of her act.
She never tired on telling how she disappointed him, and he her, capturing the foibles of married life. “Fang is permanent in the act, of course,” she said. “Don’t confuse him with my real husbands. They’re temporary.”
She was also a staple performer on late night shows like “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. She suffered a major heart attack in 1999 and had a pacemaker installed. But retired three years later. She returned to writing and published her autobiography, “Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse,” in 2005.