Phyllis Diller, the first woman to make it big as a comedian, was an American pioneer. She created a stage persona of a wild-haired, eccentrically dressed housewife. She made self-deprecating jokes about her age and appearance, her terrible cooking and housekeeping, and her fictional husband named “Fang”.
Diller’s signature was her unusual laugh, a booming cackle she let loose always while pretending to smoke from a long cigarette holder. Her jokes later in life about her many facelifts made the procedure seem “more normal” for Americans, she said.
She got into comedy late, at age 37, at the urging of her peers. “I was born funny,” she told NPR News, But mostly, it was due to the fact that she was poor and sometimes homeless. Her husband had difficulty earning enough money for them and their five children, even with Phyllis working in an office.
At home, she was a classically trained pianist and gourmet cook and enjoyed painting. (See a painting that now hangs in Bill Maher’s home.)
She died peacefully in her sleep, her longtime manager said, with a smile on her face. She was 95.
(WATCH the NBC video below, or read the story at ABC)