Comedian Phyllis Diller, whose wild hair, trademark laugh and mix of bawdy and self-deprecating humor made her a variety show and nightclub favorite, died on Monday in Brentwood at age 95.
Diller died at 9:30 a.m. at her home, according to her longtime manager Milt Suchin. She was found by her son Perry, "with a smile on her face,'' Suchin said.
"The world has lost a true trailblazer, a gracious and classy woman who blazed the way for all other female comics,'' Suchin told City News Service. "She was a very special, special lady, very supportive of young comics.'' A cause of death was not immediately released. Suchin said Diller had recently injured her wrist and was recuperating at home.
Diller suffered a near-fatal heart attack in 1999. She told Entertainment Tonight at the time that she had considered suicide.
"Yes, I would have (committed suicide),'' she said. "But see, when you want to and you can't move, there isn't anything you can do about it. There isn't anything around here that I could use for suicide. ... I'm terribly glad that I didn't do it because I will be working again ... I'll be around to watch my grandchildren. I love to work, you see. I got new jokes.''
Born Phyllis Ada Driver, the comic didn't start her showbiz career until the age of 37. At the time, she was a working housewife and a mother of five, employed as a publicist, newspaper writer and columnist at a San Francisco radio station.
Urged by her husband, Sherwood Diller, she prepared a nightclub act and was booked into San Francisco's Purple Onion. She slithered around the piano, lampooned current celebrities, brandished a cigarette holder and made fun of high fashion.
Originally booked for two weeks, Diller's act received such rave reviews that it was extended for almost two years. Combining wild costumes, untamed hair and a raucous laugh with self-deprecating monologues, she won national acclaim with her mid-1960s television routines featuring "Fang,'' her imaginary husband.
In addition to television, film and stage work, Diller made five records, wrote four best-selling books and has performed on piano with more than 100 symphony orchestras. Although she largely retired about 10 years ago, Diller would still show up in bit parts, including lending her distinctive voice to the animated Fox comedy "Family Guy.''
"I adored her,'' singer Barbra Streisand said of Diller. "She was a wondrous spirit who was great to me.'' Comedian Bob Newhart also hailed Diller as a trailblazer who had a unique style that will never be repeated.
"The thing that strikes me most about Phyllis, aside from a joy to be around, was her uniqueness,'' Newhart said. "There was no one like Phyllis before, and I doubt if there will be anyone after.''