Phyllis Diller, who was dubbed the first-ever female stand-up comedian, has died aged 95, her agent confirmed last night.
The performer, famed as much for her cackling laugh and wacky dress sense as for her comedy, was found at home in Brentwood, California.
The cause of her death has not been released but it is known that she suffered a near-fatal heart attack in 1999 and retired from showbusiness shortly afterwards.
Last night, chat show host Larry King tweeted: "I adored Phyllis Diller – she was a great guest, a terrific lady and certainly one of the funniest people ever." Fellow comedian Joan Rivers said: "I'm beyond saddened. We were friends. 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."
Diller was an advertising copywriter until, as she approached 40, her first husband, Sherwood Diller, persuaded her to get into stand-up at a time when funny women were very few and far between. Adopting the persona of an outrageously dressed reluctant housewife who poked fun at herself – "I once wore a peekaboo blouse. People would peek and then they'd boo" – she became a stalwart of nightclubs and television from the 1950s up until 2002, when she retired. In 1992 she received the American Comedy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Diller was one of the first celebrities to undergo plastic surgery and reportedly kept a plastic surgery diary, showing it to anyone who asked. "She was a true pioneer," her agent Fred Wostbrock said yesterday. "She paved the way for everybody. For Joan Rivers, Ellen DeGeneres, Chelsea Handler. Phyllis was the first of the first. The first female to play Vegas... she was on Broadway, she made movies. She did it all."
Her manager, Milton Suchin, told AP: "She died peacefully in her sleep with a smile on her face."
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