On Monday, one of the most popular comediennes of the past six decades passed away at the age of 95. Phyllis Diller was found by her son Perry Diller and the cause of death has yet to be identified. Back in 1999, Diller suffered a heart attack that nearly caused her to lose her life.
“We lost a comedy legend today,” Ellen DeGeneres said on Twitter. “Phyllis Diller was the queen of the one-liners. She was a pioneer.”
Barbra Streisand tweeted: “I adored her. She was wondrous spirit who was great to me.”
“I’m beyond saddened by the death of Phyllis Diller. We were friends,” Joan Rivers said. “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.”
In an industry dominated by men, Diller was described as a pioneer by Vicki Lawrence. “And yet, she was one of the nicest, kindest, funniest, sincerest women I have ever known,” she said. “She had such a gentle, hysterical way of laughing at herself without ever making us feel uncomfortable about laughing with her.”
In a statement released by the Friars Club, Diller was one of the first women admitted into the club in 1988. She had snuck into the all-male club earlier to see a roast of Sid Caesar. She snuck in dressed as a man.
“Phyllis Diller came through a mine field of male comedians when she arrived on the comedy scene and she defused them all,” Tim Conway said. “She won her place in the Hall of Comedy as the First Lady.”
Diller was born in Lima Ohio as Phyllis Driver. She married Sherwood Diller upon graduating Bluffton College. In 1961, Time magazine wrote the following about Diller: “Onstage comes something that, by its own description, looks like a sackful of doorknobs. With hair dyed by Alcoa, pipe-cleaner limbs and knees just missing one another when the feet are wide apart, this is not Princess Volupine. It is Phyllis Diller, the poor man’s Auntie Mame, only successful female among the New Wave comedians and one of the few women funny and tough enough to belt out a ‘standup’ act of one-line gags.”
In 1965, Diller said, “I was one of those life-of-the-party types. You’ll find them in every bridge club, at every country club. People invited me to parties only because they knew I would supply some laughs. They still do.”
Diller worked early during her marriage in advertising and did not enter the world of comedy until the age of 40, after Sherwood told her repeatedly to leave advertising. Sherwood was Diller’s manager until their marriage ended in the early 1960s.