Ohio born Comic Phyllis Diller died in her sleep at her home in Los Angeles Monday surrounded by her family. The comedian was 95.
Diller was born in my hometown of Lima, Ohio. I grew up listening to family members point her out as the hometown girl who had made it big along with her classmate Hugh Downs.
Diller was a decade older than my mother who attended the same high school, Lima Central High School. My mother would laugh whenever Diller made a TV appearance with a proud grin. It almost felt like that wacky lady in the ugly dress on the boob tube was a family member. Only those who knew her personally knew that her attire was the biggest joke, Diller was a shapely lady. She also held onto a long cigarette holder flicking invisible ashes to the wind. Diller didn't smoke in real life.
She had left Lima way before I was born moving to Michigan during WWII with her first husband Sherwood Anderson Diller, whom she had married in 1939, after a three year stint at Sherwood Music Conservatory in Chicago. When at the conservatory she decided that music, though a love of hers, would not be her career. She settled for enjoying the ivories and the harpsichord in her private life, away from the cameras.
In the mid-1950's Diller began her comic career while still being a housewife. It was in Oakland, California where that career started at KROW radio. By the mid-1950's she was appearing on The Belfast Pop Club as a vocalist.
In 1955 she stepped up on stage at The Purple Onion as a stand up comic. That run lasted 87 weeks. Her career didn't take off though until the 1960's when she appeared with Bob Hope in his television specials. In 1966 she went to Vietnam with Hope to perform with his USO troupe.
Diller's laugh and dry humour of being a housewife for her husband Fang was a mainstay on TV talk shows during the 1970's.
Diller was married and twice divorced. She had six children, Peter (died in 1998 from cancer), Sally, a son who died at the age of two weeks, Suzanne, Stephanie (died of a stroke in 2002) and Perry. Her partner Robert P. Hastings passed away in 1996. Perry Diller oversaw her estate during Diller's later years.
In 1999 Diller survived a heart attack being fit for a pacemaker. In 2005 she suffered a bad fall that resulted in a replacement pacemaker. At that time she retired from stand-up appearances.
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