Pioneering comedian Phyllis Diller died today at age 95. My friend Jim Cheng wrote in USA Today about how Diller, who did not begin to perform until she was 37, paved the way for performers like Roseanne Barr and Joan Rivers. Diller became a headliner in an era when almost all comics were male, and her raucous humor and wild wigs made her an immediate hit.
Diller’s comedy career was timed almost as perfectly as one of her jokes. In the heyday of comedy and variety shows, Diller was a guest with all the big names, from Jack Bennyand Dean Martin to Red Skelton and Ed Sullivan. But her 1966 ABC situation comedy,The Pruitts of Southhampton, later renamed The Phyllis Diller Show, lasted only one season.
In addition to blazing a trail as a woman in the male-dominated field of comedy, Diller spouted seemingly autobiographical one-liners and anecdotes that paved the way for Rivers’ and Barr’s riffs on similar themes; Diller told of domestic and marital strife with her long-suffering husband, “Fang,” and, of course, self-deprecating jokes about her often-outlandish appearance, which was part of her act.
Diller made three movies with her idol, Bob Hope and provided voice talent for animated films like “A Bug’s Life” and television’s “Family Guy.” She made a lot of people laugh for more than five decades. May her memory be a blessing.