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Phyllis Diller

Comedian

Born: 17 July 1917
Died: 20 August 2012
Birthplace: Lima, Ohio
Best known as:

The wild-haired female comedian of the late 20th century

Name at birth: Phyllis Ada Driver

Phyllis Diller was the stand-up comedian known for her wild hair, raucous laugh, and silly one-liners about her looks and her fictional life as a homemaker. She is often called a pioneer in women's stand-up comedy. Phyllis Diller was born in Ohio during World War I. She trained as a classical pianist and was attending Bluffton College when she met her future husband, Sherwood Diller. They eloped in 1939 and eventually had six children, with Phyllis helping bring in money by writing newspaper stories and ad copy. Diller was 37 when, at her husband's urging, she made her stand-up debut at the Purple Onion nightclub in San Francisco on March 7, 1955. Soon she began to develop her comedy signatures: bleached hair like a fright wig, strange dowdy dresses, and raucous "ah-HAH-HAH-HAH" laugh. She joked about her (allegedly) hideous looks, her fictional husband, Fang, and her terrible homemaking skills. Soon she was appearing on late-night TV and even cracking jokes onstage at Carnegie Hall. In the 1960s and 1970s she was a regular on TV comedy and variety shows all over the dial. She also dabbled in series TV, starring in The Pruitts of Southampton (later renamed The Phyllis Diller Show) from 1966-67 and the variety series The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show in 1968; she also took a turn as a panelist on The Gong Show (1976-80). She had a complete facelift in 1971, and her own jokes about the procedure became a staple of her act. She remained a regular in stand-up clubs and Las Vegas through the 1990s, finally retiring from stand-up officially in 2005. Her 2005 memoir was titled Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy.

Extra credit:

Phyllis Diller was married twice: to Stanford Diller (from 1939 until their divorce in 1965) and to Warde Donovan (from 1965 until their divorce in 1974). She had six children with Diller, none with Donovan... Phyllis Diller often used a long cigarette holder as a prop; in real life, she didn't smoke... Phyllis Diller is no relation to media mogul Barry Diller.

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More on Phyllis Diller from Infoplease:

  • Phyllis Diller - Biography of Phyllis Diller, The wild-haired female comedian of the late 20th century
  • Barry Diller - Biography of Barry Diller, The former Paramount and Fox TV executive who now runs InterActiveCorp
  • Susan Lucci - Biography of Susan Lucci, Erica Kane on ABC's All My Children from 1970-2011
  • A Bug's Life - Starring Dave Foley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kevin Spacey, Phyllis Diller, Hayden Panettiere
  • How to Live Forever - Starring Phyllis Diller, Suzanne Somers, Ray Bradbury, Jack LaLanne, Willard Scott
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