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Phyllis Diller, groundbreaking comedienne, dead at 95 (slideshow/video)

Phyllis Diller

Chris Pizzello/AP

Phyllis Diller poses with her photos at her home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, Friday, March 11, 2005. Female standup comics had never made the big-time, but Diller beat the odds, paving the way for Lily Tomlin, Rosanne, Ellen DeGeneres and others to follow.

Phyllis Diller at Hawaiian Party

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Comedienne Phyllis Diller wears funny glasses at a Hawaiian party September 4, 2000 in Beverly Hills, CA.

Bob and Dolores Hope Give $1 Million Dollars

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Actress Phyllis Diller speaks during the check presentation of $1 million dollars donated to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation by the Bob & Dolores Hope Charitable Foundation March 5, 2002 in Los Angeles, CA. Linda Hope daughter of Bob Hope presented the check to the academy to establish the new ATAS 'Hope Comedy Collection.'

Phillis Diller And New Boyfriend

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Comedienne Phyllis Diller poses for the photographer at her home August 16, 2000 in Brentwood, CA. The 83-year-old comedienne is currently dating Alden Pearce, 75, who is eight years her junior.

Variety Salutes Army Archerd's 50th Anniversary

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Tom Selleck and Phyllis Diller at the Beverly Hilton Hotel as 'Variety Salutes Army Archerd's 50th Anniversary' in Beverly Hills, Ca. Friday, April 26, 2002.

7th Heaven Celebrates 150 Episodes

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Exec. Prod. Aaron Spelling (L) hugs comedienne Phyllis Diller at a reception to celebrate 150 episodes of The WB's '7th Heaven' on February 20, 2003 in Los Angeles, California.

Phyllis Diller, the legendary humorist credited with cackling the path for many female comics, died at her Brentwood home in Los Angeles on Monday. She was 95.

"It is a great loss today," her agent Fred Wostbrock told NBC LA

"She was a true pioneer and the first lady of standup. She paved the way for Chelsea Handler, Roseanne Barr, Joan Rivers and Ellen DeGeneres. She was the best. The first female standup to play Vegas. She was on Broadway, she made movies, she did it all." 

Often the aim of her own jokes, the comedienne was known for her self-deprecating candidness in live, television, and film appearances, and for her signature, unmistakable laugh. A friend to Muppets and frequent game show guest, the housewife-turned comedian had a career spanning nearly 50 years.

Making her network television debut as a contestant on the Groucho Marx game show, "You Bet Your Life," the mother of five steadily built her stand-up comedy persona as the corner-cutting wife of "Fang," a husband that is never seen and wasn't real. Through two actual marriages, "Fang" remained.

"Fang is permanent in the act, of course," she once said. "Don't confuse him with my real husbands. They're temporary."

Diller, who didn't get into comedy until she was nearly 40, credited the self-help book, "The Magic of Believing" by Claude M. Bristol, with giving her the courage to enter the business. Over the years, she would recommend it to, and sometimes by it for, aspiring entertainers. 

On KPCC’s Patt Morrison program, Paula Poundstone praised Diller’s method and moxie:

"I remember one night watching. I don’t even remember where we were, but, you know, a big crowd, and she started out, and they just weren’t buying it; she was getting nowhere. And she just kept going. She would tell the next joke, and the next joke, and it was so funny; it was table-pounding funny. And I watched that, and not only did I enjoy that as an audience member, but really learned so much from how she did what she did."

Diller retired from standup comedy in 2002, several years after suffering a heart attack.  Her manager says she died peacefully in her sleep. 


First television appearance:

Bird legs:

Ed Sullivan:

Roasts Ronald Reagan:

Muppet Show:

Duet with Liberace:

This story has been updated.


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