Pioneering comedian Phyllis Diller dies at age 95

Mon Aug 20, 2012 8:32pm EDT
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian Phyllis Diller, the former housewife whose raucous cackle and jokes about her own looks made her one of America's first female stand-up comedy stars, died in her sleep on Monday at age 95, her longtime manager said.

Diller was found in her bed at her home in the affluent Brentwood section of Los Angeles by her son, Perry, who had come to visit her, manager Milt Suchin said.

"She had a smile on her face, as you'd expect," Suchin told Reuters.

Her publicist, Fred Wostbrock, called her "a true pioneer" and "the first lady of stand-up comedy."

A friend and fellow comic, Joan Rivers, said on Monday that Diller cleared a path for a younger generation of female stand-up artists to trade on their jokes alone.

"Phyllis Diller was the last from an era that insisted a woman had to look funny in order to be funny," Rivers said in a message posted through Twitter.

Diller created an indelible persona with her distinctive braying laugh, a cigarette holder, teased hair, outlandish costumes and a fictional lout of a husband she called Fang.

Her act consisted of rapid-fire jokes and one-liners that often spoofed social pretenses by poking fun at herself ("I went bathing nude on the beach the other day; it took me 20 minutes to get arrested") as well as a world of invented characters.   Continued...

Actress Phyllis Diller arrives for a memorial mass for entertainer Bob Hope in North Hollywood, California in this August 27, 2003 file photo. Diller died at age 95 according to her talent agent August 20, 2012. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith/Files