Comedian Phyllis Diller, who was well-known for her distinctive laugh and who's success paved the way for other female comedians, died Monday at the age of 95. NY1's Arts reporter Stephanie Simon filed the following report.
Before Kathy Griffin, Roseanne Barr, Ellen DeGeneres or even Joan Rivers, there was Phyllis Diller. It's hard to believe now, but when Diller began her career in the 1950s, women just weren't considered funny and stand-up comedy was all but closed to them.
Diller broke that barrier, becoming one of the first, and most influential comedians of her time.
Nearly 40 when she began her career in stand-up comedy, Diller drew on her years as a stay-at-home wife and mother and brought her natural gift of gab. Her onstage persona included outrageous outfits, crazy wigs and that famous cackling laugh, as she regaled audiences with tales of a fictitious husband named Fang.
As she once joked, "One night, I told Fang to kiss me goodnight and he got up and put his workclothes on."
Comedian David Brenner grew up admiring her and later became a friend.
"What I got from Phyllis Diller in my career is the boldness," said Brenner. "And I thought she was so bold, she just laid it out there and she acted like she doesn't care what anyone thinks or says about her. And I think that's a really wonderful attribute to have, even in life."
In a career that spanned more than 50 years, Diller did movies, TV shows, voice-over work and appeared on Broadway.
She famously appeared with Bob Hope on TV and in films, like him, killing with one-liners. But she was always most successful doing stand-up and continued to give comedy performances until 2002.
Brenner was at her final stand-up performance.
"I put my arms around her and I hugged her and I whispered in her ear, 'Don't quit, America needs you and comedy needs you.' Because she was a brilliant comedian and she has been missed," said Brenner.
Diller laughed at herself but made the world laugh with her and showed audiences that female comedians were worth taking seriously.
She passed away in her sleep Monday morning, according to her manager.