Legendary, groundbreaking comic Phyllis Diller dead at 95 - FOX Carolina 21

Comedienne Phyllis Diller dead at 95

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Phyllis Diller was known for her eccentric costumes, makeup and hairdos, all of which helped craft her image as America's decidedly imperfect housewife. (Source: Wikimedia Commons) Phyllis Diller was known for her eccentric costumes, makeup and hairdos, all of which helped craft her image as America's decidedly imperfect housewife. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
(Source: DragonVeil Studios / Undreamt Productions) (Source: DragonVeil Studios / Undreamt Productions)

LOS ANGELES (RNN) - Phyllis Diller, the legendary comedienne who debunked the pristine image of the American housewife and broke down gender barriers in the world of standup, has died, according to CBS News.

She was 95 years old.

Phyllis Ada Driver was born on July 17, 1917, to parents Perry and Frances of the small town of Lima, OH.

Driver, an accomplished pianist left Chicago's Sherwood Music Conservatory to elope with first husband, Sherwood Anderson Diller, in 1939.

She took up residence in San Francisco, where she would become a housewife and mother. She worked as a copywriter and journalist during the day and honed her stand-up at night in comedy clubs.

Diller famously deconstructed the role of homemaker, a role society expected to be immaculate following popular sitcoms of the times like Leave it to Beaver. Her humor was self-deprecating. Her appearance - loud and proud clothing, eccentric makeup and crazily teased hair - was a direct departure from the typical portrayal of American suburbia. She was loud, raw and, at times, chaotic as she took on subjects like her fictional husband Fang and child-bearing.

But perhaps the most signature part of Diller's routine was her singular, lingering cackle, which alone would announce her entrance to a room.

Diller's first major national appearance was on the Groucho Marx-hosted game show You Bet Your Life. The successful one-liners she delivered on the revered NBC game would parlay her to fame.

Life helped Diller land a booking at the Purple Onion Comedy Club. The San Francisco engagement was supposed to last two weeks, but Diller stayed for nearly two years.

Diller's fame on TV wasn't rooted in her own ill-fated starring vehicles: The Pruitts of Southampton and The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show. Rather it was her status as a mainstay on entertainment game shows and talk shows, including I've Got a Secret, Hollywood Squares and The Gong Show.

Diller began to open up about her plastic surgeries - a previously taboo subject - in the '70s.

"It's a good thing that beauty is only skin deep, or I'd be rotten to the core," Diller once said.

Her efforts to stay young became an important part of her comedy routines and paved the way for future comediennes and admitted plastic surgery fans like Joan Rivers and Kathy Griffin.

Aside from television and standup, Diller also found success on the stage and in film. She famously replaced Carol Channing in Broadway's Hello Dolly! and had a good working relationship with Bob Hope, with whom she starred in B-movies and Christmas specials.

Her career endured an uptick in the late '90s after Diller landed a pair of recurring roles on the WB's 7th Heaven and CBS' The Bold and the Beautiful. In that same time frame, Diller also voiced the Queen in the hit Disney film A Bug's Life.

After departing the CBS soap in 2004, she released her final book, memoir Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse.

"My own laugh is the real thing and I've had it all my life," Diller wrote. "My father used to call me the laughing hyena. Like a yawn or a mood, it's infectious, and that's a great plus for a comic."

But Diller confessed that she didn't just turn her laugh on and off like other performers. Early on her career, the laugh was a "nervous" one.

"I was scared out of my mind. The sweat ran down my back into my shoes and it was so strong with body acids that it ate the leather lining," she wrote. "That's what is known as flop sweat - it doesn't mean you're flopping; you're just petrified - and I had man-sized coat shields in my dress to try to absorb it."

[Click here to read an excerpt from Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse.]

Diller reprised the role of make-up artist Gladys Pope on a two-episode arc of Bold in March 2012 for the soap's 25th anniversary season.

Until her death, Diller resided in Brentwood, CA, where she once served as honorary mayor. She is survived by her three children.

In addition to Sherwood, Diller was later divorced to entertainer Ward Donovan. Attorney Rob Hastings was her partner until his death in 1996.

Some Hollywood's elite have offered condolences via Twitter.

Ellen DeGeneres wrote:  "We lost a comedy legend today. Phyllis Diller was the queen of the one-liners. She was a pioneer."

 Joan Rivers wrote: "I'm beyond saddened by the death of Phyllis Diller. We were friends - Melissa and I had a wonderful time with her at lunch just a month ago."

Whoopi Goldberg wrote: "A true original has died. Phyllis Diller There was NO one like her, no one looked like her or sounded like her. Classy& Smart RIP."

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