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Also Known As: Phyllis Ada Driver Died: August 20, 2012
Born: July 17, 1917 Cause of Death: Undetermined
Birth Place: Lima, Ohio, USA Profession: comedian, actor, concert pianist, advertising copywriter

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A groundbreaking pioneer in American comedy, comedienne Phyllis Diller represented the face of the female stand-up comic for a generation of baby boomers. She predated Roseanne Barr's "Domestic Goddess" shtick by more than two decades, shooting to stardom in the 1950s with her eccentric, strangely attired housewife alter ego. An ironic underdog with a head of frazzled hair and excessive make-up, Diller endeared herself to an era of prosperous post-war middle Americans through stand-up, as well as musical and comedy routines. Her countless television appearances made Diller a household name, and she was forever seen in daytime talk shows and comedy-driven game shows like "The Hollywood Squares" (NBC, 1966-1980; 1983-84) and "The Gong Show" (NBC, 1976-1989) as a comic "personality," forever puffing smoke from a long cigarette holder, and shooting off rapid-fire punch lines punctuated with her trademark loud, distinctive cackle.Born into the world as Phyllis Ada Driver on July 17, 1917 in Lima, OH, this future queen of comedy entered the field with years of nonstop performing at San Francisco's historic Purple Onion Club. Prior to that, she was a housewife, mother and worked as an advertising...

A groundbreaking pioneer in American comedy, comedienne Phyllis Diller represented the face of the female stand-up comic for a generation of baby boomers. She predated Roseanne Barr's "Domestic Goddess" shtick by more than two decades, shooting to stardom in the 1950s with her eccentric, strangely attired housewife alter ego. An ironic underdog with a head of frazzled hair and excessive make-up, Diller endeared herself to an era of prosperous post-war middle Americans through stand-up, as well as musical and comedy routines. Her countless television appearances made Diller a household name, and she was forever seen in daytime talk shows and comedy-driven game shows like "The Hollywood Squares" (NBC, 1966-1980; 1983-84) and "The Gong Show" (NBC, 1976-1989) as a comic "personality," forever puffing smoke from a long cigarette holder, and shooting off rapid-fire punch lines punctuated with her trademark loud, distinctive cackle.

Born into the world as Phyllis Ada Driver on July 17, 1917 in Lima, OH, this future queen of comedy entered the field with years of nonstop performing at San Francisco's historic Purple Onion Club. Prior to that, she was a housewife, mother and worked as an advertising copywriter. During her early years playing comedy clubs in the San Francisco Bay area, her material centered on her less-than-charmed home life. Her act relied heavily on self-deprecating humor and jokes made at the expense of her family, especially her husband, an inept, boorish fellow nicknamed "Fang." Though not quite as abrasive as Joan Rivers on the subject, Diller set the standard for a comedic archetype - that of the loud, brassy American housewife. In later years, other female comics such as Roseanne Barr, Brett Butler and Rita Rudner rose to fame, taking up Diller's banner with their own brand of post-modern, male-bashing brand of humor. At the time, however, the trailblazer shared stages with fellow future stars Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers.

Following a breakthrough appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jack Paar, (NBC, 1957-1962), Diller landed her first major exposure as a contestant on the venerated game show, "You Bet Your Life" (NBC, 1950-1961), hosted by Groucho Marx. Managed at the time by Svengali-esque first husband, Sherwood Diller, Diller parlayed her improvisational one-liner genius into a full-time career as a stand-up comedienne. In between stand-up gigs, Diller maintained a modest side career on the screen, portraying vaudeville personality Texas Guinan in the Natalie Wood/Warren Beatty drama "Splendor in the Grass" (1961) and finding her niche in low-brow film comedies "Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!" (1966), "Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady?" (1968) and "The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell" (1968), all co-starring buddy Bob Hope.

While Diller starred on two short-lived television series - the sitcom "The Pruitts of Southampton" (ABC, 1966-67) and the variety show "The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show" (NBC, 1968) - her enduring fame stemmed mostly from her endless appearances on TV specials, notably half a dozen of her own variety specials and every Bob Hope Christmas Special from 1965 through 1994. Unscripted Diller proved to be the most entertaining Diller, and for decades she was a mainstay on such shows as "I've Got a Secret" (CBS, 1952-1967), "The Hollywood Squares" and "The Gong Show," as well as countless variety specials and daytime talk shows. In 1970, Diller gave a worthy stab at filling the shoes of Carol Channing on Broadway in "Hello, Dolly!"

Later in the decade, the aging Diller discovered a new vein of self-deprecating, exploitable humor - her plastic surgery. Thumbing her nose at the vain Hollywood establishment, she openly copped to her numerous facelifts, nose jobs and tummy-tucks, becoming a de facto pitchwoman for the cosmetic surgery profession with such testaments as, "I used to be young and ugly. Now, I'm old and gorgeous." Diller's career began to slow in the 1980s, with the actress limiting herself to a few guest appearances in episodes of "The Love Boat" (ABC, 1977-1986) and the horror anthology "Tales from the Darkside" (syndicated, 1984-88). Now a campy legend worthy of bringing old school comedy cred to a new breed of low budget comedy filmmakers, she also showed up in "Dr. Hackenstein" (1988) and "Silence of the Hams" (1994). In 1998, she landed her highest profile role in years when she was cast the voice of the Queen in Pixar's smash hit comedy, "A Bug's Life."

Diller's career awoke again at the dawn of the new millennium, with a recurring role as an obnoxious spinster-turned-fan favorite on the long-running drama "7th Heaven" (The WB/The CW, 1997-2006). A short time later, Diller won a recurring role on her favorite daytime soap "The Bold & the Beautiful" (CBS, 1987- ) as beloved comic relief character, Gladys Pope, an old-time make-up artist from the 1950s. She enjoyed a spot on the soap until 2004, after which she released the memoir Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse. Resurfacing on the movie screen in two very different documentaries, Diller first contributed to "The Aristocrats" (2005), an in-depth look at a legendary dirty joke beloved by a wide range of comedians, before extolling the virtues of alternative energy in the documentary, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" (2006).

Nearing her nineties, Diller offered supporting dramatic performances in straight-to-video indies "The Still Life" (2007) and "The Last Place on Earth" (2006), as well as lending her vocals to irony-laden animated series like "Robot Chicken" (Adult Swim, 2005- ) and "Family Guy" (Fox, 1999-2002; 2005-). In 2009, a collection of Diller's stand-up material and sketch routines was compiled in the DVD "Phyllis Diller: Not Just Another Pretty Face" and included in the DVD box set "Comic Legends," which also included discs devoted to Dick Van Dyke, Tim Conway, Redd Foxx and Groucho Marx. The beloved comic passed away on Aug. 20, 2012 in her sleep at her Los Angeles home, surrounded by loved ones.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 I Am Comic (2010)
2.
3.
4.
 Still Life, The (2007)
6.
 Aristocrats, The (2005)
7.
 Moto X Kids (2004)
8.
 Kiss My Act (2001) Herself
9.
 Nuttiest Nutcracker, The (2000) Voice Of Sugar Plum Fairy
10.
 Bug's Life, A (1998) Voice Of The Queen
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1955:
Auditioned at the Purple Onion in San Francisco, CA
1957:
Made debut as comedienne at the Purple Onion in San Francisco at age 40
1961:
Stage acting debut, "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs"
1961:
Cast in film debut as famed 1920s nightclub hostess Texas Guinan in "Splendor in the Grass"
1965:
Began long professional relationship with Bob Hope as guest on his numerous variety specials; also later traveled with Hope to Vietnam to entertain U.S. troops
1966:
Made first of three films with Hope, "Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!"
1966:
TV series debut, "The Pruitts of Southampton" (ABC); later re-named "The Phyllis Diller Show"
1968:
Starred in the feature "Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady?"
1968:
Headlined the NBC variety series "The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show"
1970:
Starred in "Hello, Dolly!" on Broadway; took over the role after Carol Channing, Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, and Betty Grable had played the part of Dolly Gallagher Levi
1972:
Went public with the first of her numerous plastic surgeries (a facelift), including jokes about it in her comedy routines
1979:
Acted in the comedy "A Pleasure Doing Business"
1983:
Appeared on the NBC game shows "Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour" and "Celebrity Hot Potato"
1987:
Voiced The White Queen in animated feature "Alice Through the Looking Glass"
1993:
Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
1993:
Landed recurring role on the NBC series "Blossom"
1998:
Voiced the Queen in the animated feature "A Bug's Life"
1999:
Landed recurring guest role on "The Bold and the Beautiful" (CBS)
2005:
Wrote memoir <i>Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse</i>
2006:
Provided guest voice work on Fox animated series "Family Guy"
2007:
Made a cameo on ABC's "Boston Legal"
2009:
Featured in the documentary "How to Live Forever"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Sherwood Music Conservatory: Chicago , Illinois - 1935 - 1937
Bluffton College: Bluffton , Ohio - 1938 - 1939

Notes

Diller suffered a heart attack in February 1999.

In 2001, she was the first female inducted into the Friars Club Wall of Fame.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Sherwood Anderson Diller. Married on November 4, 1939; divorced September 1965; died in 1993.
husband:
Ward Donovan. Actor, singer. Married on October 7, 1965; divorced in July 1975.
companion:
Robert P Hastings. Attorney. Together from c. 1985 until his death in May 1996.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Perry Marcus Driver.
mother:
Frances Ada Driver.
son:
Peter Diller III. Deceased.
daughter:
Sally Diller.
daughter:
Suzanne Miles.
daughter:
Stephanie Waldron.
son:
Perry Diller.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Phyllis Diller Tells All About Fang" Doubleday
"Phyllis Diller's Housekeeping Hints" Doubleday
"Phyllis Diller's Marriage Manual" Doubleday
"The Complete Mother" Doubleday
"The Joys of Aging and How to Use Them" Doubleday
"Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy" Penguin Group
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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