Phyllis Diller, Trailblazing Female Comic, Dies at 95

Obituaries   Phyllis Diller, Trailblazing Female Comic, Dies at 95
Phyllis Diller, the outrageous stand-up comic who was one of the first women to find wide success in her field, died Aug. 20 at her home in Brentwood, CA. She was 95.

Ms. Diller entered the comedy world in the late '50s, when it was nearly an all-male dominion. She won audiences over with a machine-gun routine of one-liners that sent up her looks, her fictitious husband Fang, and her supposedly abysmal performance as a spouse and housewife. Her jokes were backed up by a jarring, Wicked-Witch-As-Fashion Victim appearance, a sight gag that preceded her opening line. Her fright wig of blonde hair and garish, metallic dresses made her among the most recognizable professionals in show business.

She made her professional debut in 1955 at The Purple Onion, a San Francisco nightclub that was famous for launching unorthodox entertainment careers. Soon, she was getting career-making boosts from Jack Paar, who had her on his "Tonight Show" several times, and comedian Bob Hope, who championed her and cast her in three of his movies, and two dozen television specials.

In theatre, she took on the title role in the Broadway musical Hello, Dolly! for a few months in late 1969 and early 1970. She also performed in many stock and touring shows. She starred in a popular run of the musical Nunsense at the Marines Theatre in San Francisco.

Phyllis Ada Driver was born on July 17, 1917, in Lima, OH. Her early interests included classical music. After a short tenure at the Sherwood Conservatory of Music in Chicago, she attended Bluffton College in Bluffton, OH, near Lima. She met Sherwood Anderson Diller in her senior year in college. They were married in 1939. The couple moved to California, where they struggled financially, forcing Ms. Diller to take work in an advertising agency.

She stumbled into show business after she found that people enjoyed it when she entertained them (with proper comic timing) with tales of her domestic troubles. She began to be invited to appear at parties, clubs and church halls, and found radio work on KROW in Oakland. Phyllis Diller is survived by a son, Perry; a daughter, Suzanne Mills; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

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