Phyllis Diller dies aged 95

Carnation

Phyllis Diller, the pioneering US comedian who aimed some of her sharpest barbs at herself, has died aged 95.

Diller, who broke into comedy in the 1950s, created an indelible persona with her distinctive braying laugh, cigarette holder, teased hair, outlandish costumes and a fictional lout of a husband nicknamed Fang.

A friend and fellow comic, Joan Rivers, said Diller cleared a path for a younger generation of female standup artists to trade on their jokes alone.

"The only tragedy is that Phyllis Diller was the last from an era that insisted a woman had to look funny in order to be funny," Rivers said on Twitter.

"If she had started today, Phyllis could have stood there in Dior and Harry Winston and become the major star that she was. I adored her!" she added.

Ellen DeGeneres tweeted that Diller was "the queen of the one-liners". Whoopi Goldberg called her a "true original."

Born Phyllis Driver in Lima, Ohio, she was a late bloomer by showbusiness standards, getting her start at 37 in 1955 when she made her debut at San Francisco's Purple Onion and broke into the male-dominated comedy circuit.

Diller was a housewife who had raised five children, but also worked as a newspaper columnist, publicist and radio writer. She discovered a flair for standup jokes at school parent-teacher meetings and decided to make comedy a career at the urging of her then-husband, Sherwood Diller, with whom she had five children. The couple divorced in 1965 and a second marriage to singer Warde Donovan ended 10 years later.

Diller's act consisted of rapid-fire jokes and one-liners that often spoofed social pretences by poking fun at herself ("I went bathing nude on the beach the other day; it took me 20 minutes to get arrested") as well as a world of invented characters including her mother-in-law Moby Dick and her skinny sister-in-law Captain Bligh.

TV appearances followed and Diller became an instantly recognised star. She made her movie debut in 1961 with a small part in Elia Kazan's Splendor in the Grass and played the title role in a 1970 Broadway production of Hello Dolly!

Diller became friends with Bob Hope and co-starred with him in three films.

In later years, she suffered from heart problems but continued to work in clubs and on TV well into her 80s. She played an insect in the 1998 animated film A Bug's Life, appeared in the 2005 comedy documentary The Aristocrats and voiced Peter's mother in 2006-2007 episodes of the cartoon TV series Family Guy.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Ben Quinn, for The Guardian on Tuesday 21st August 2012 00.48 Europe/London

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