Monday, August 20, 2012

She Went Out Laughing: Phyllis Diller Dead at 95

Legendary actress and comedienne Phyllis Diller has died in Los Angeles at the age of 95. No cause of death has been announced as of yet.

The self-effacing comic with the instantly recognizable laugh and outrageous attire became a household name after ditching the constrictive lifestyle of a housewife in the 1950s to pursue a career in stand-up comedy. She quickly made a name for herself, donning colorful outfits and garish wigs, along with her signature cigarette and white gloves. She paved the way for countless comediennes who followed in her wake, from Joan Rivers and Roseanne to Ellen Degeneres and Chelsea Handler.

She had a lifelong friendship with the equally legendary Bob Hope, who was her co-star in several movies as well as countless television specials. After divorcing her first husband Sherwood Diller—who had encouraged her to get into show business in the first place—she married entertainer Warde Donovan, only to separate and divorce after a few months together. She began to famously refer to her "husband" as the mysterious "Fang", which would remain a permanent part of her act, along with her wardrobe and that highly distinctive laugh that set her apart from every other entertainer of the day.

She worked tirelessly over the years, intent on not retiring completely from show business or slowing down, although she did announce her retirement from acting in 2002. She appeared as a popular character on the world's most watched soap opera The Bold and The Beautiful as well as writing a memoir (titled Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse) and working with her favorite charities. She was also a huge advocate of plastic surgery, admitting to going under the knife countless times over the decades in her quest to transform from "that homely woman" she joked about seeing in the mirror and into an ageless Hollywood icon.

Diller suffered a heart attack in 1999 and was fitted with a pacemaker. She also fell and broke a bone in her back in 2007, which forced her to cancel an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in honor of her 90th birthday.

She leaves behind a rich and unforgettable legacy of laughter. Say hello to Fang for us, Phyllis. We'll miss you...

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