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Comedian Phyllis Diller Dies At Age 95

Phyllis Diller, the housewife turned humorist who aimed some of her sharpest barbs at herself, has died at age 95 in Los Angeles.

Phyllis Diller
Phyllis Diller (Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

Her longtime manager, Milton Suchin, says Diller died Monday morning in her sleep. She had survived a near-fatal heart attack in 1999.

Diller was a staple of nightclubs and television from the 1950s until her retirement in 2002. She was famous for her distinctive laugh and portrayed herself as a bizarre housewife with a husband named “Fang.”

She would tell audiences that “I bury a lot of my ironing in the back yard.”

Diller was nearly 40 when she began performing, with five children and a successful career as an advertising copywriter. At the time, women were a rarity in the world of stand-up comedy.

Although she could be serious during interviews, sooner or later a joke would pop out, often as not followed by that outrageous “AH-HHAAAAAAAAAAAA-HA-HA-HA!” laugh.

“It’s my real laugh,” she once said. “It’s in the family. When I was a kid my father called me the laughing hyena.”

After retiring from standup, Diller continued to take occasional small parts in movies and TV shows (“Family Guy”) and pursued painting as a serious hobby. She published her autobiography, “Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse,” in 2005. The 2006 film “Goodnight, We Love You” documented her career.

Her other books included “Phyllis Diller’s Housekeeping Hints” and “Phyllis Diller’s Marriage Manual.”

When she turned 90 in July 2007, she fractured a bone in her back and was forced to cancel a planned birthday appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” But it didn’t stop her from wisecracking: “I still take the pill ’cause I don’t want any more grandchildren.”

Born Phyllis Driver in Lima, Ohio, she married Sherwood Diller right out of school (Bluffton College) and was a housewife for several years before getting outside work.

She was working as an advertising writer for a radio station when a comedy turn at San Francisco’s Purple Onion nightclub launched her toward stardom.

She made her network TV debut as a contestant on Groucho Marx’s game show, “You Bet Your Life.” (Diller, asked if she was married: “Yes, I’ve worn a wedding ring for 18 years.” Marx: “Really? Well, two more payments and it’ll be all yours.”)

She credited the self-help book, “The Magic of Believing” by Claude M. Bristol, with giving her the courage to enter the business. For decades she would recommend it to aspiring entertainers, even buying it for them sometimes.

“Don’t get me wrong, though,” she said in a 1982 interview that threatened to turn serious. “I’m a comic. I don’t deal with problems when I’m working.”

“I want people to laugh.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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