US & Canada

US comedian Phyllis Diller dead at 95

Phyllis Diller at the Leonard H Goldenson Theatre in North Hollywood, California 6 October 2008
Image caption Diller broke into comedy at a time when there were very few female stand-up comics

US comedian Phyllis Diller, a staple of stand-up and television, has died at the age of 95.

Her former manager, Milton Suchin, said Diller died on Monday morning in Los Angeles "peacefully in her sleep with a smile on her face".

Diller broke into comedy in the 1950s, after a career as an advertising and radio writer.

She suffered a near-fatal heart attack in 1999, and retired in 2002. The cause of her death has not been released.

Diller was known for her distinctive, cackling laugh, large hair and outlandish costumes.

Born in Lima, Ohio, in 1917, Diller aimed many of her harshest jokes at herself, and made the antics of a fictional husband named Fang a permanent part of her routine.

In fact, it was her first husband Sherwood Diller who urged her to try comedy as a career. She made her debut at San Francisco's Purple Onion in 1955, when she was 37.

She performed at the club for 87 consecutive weeks.

"I was one of those life-of-the-party types," Diller told the Associated Press in 1965.

"You'll find them in every bridge club, at every country club.

"People invited me to parties only because they knew I would supply some laughs. They still do."

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Media captionJoan Rivers: "Phyllis Diller broke a lot of doors down for women."

Sherwood managed her career until their 25-year marriage fell apart in the 1960s. The couple had five children together.

She was then married to entertainer Warde Donovan, but they separated within months.

Diller appeared in several movies and starred in two short-lived TV series in the 1960s. She continued to make appearances on US talk and game shows, and toured with Bob Hope through the USO, a troop morale organisation.

"We lost a comedy legend today," Ellen DeGeneres tweeted. "Phyllis Diller was the queen of the one-liners. She was a pioneer."

Joan Rivers said she was "beyond saddened by the death of Phyllis Diller," whom she described as a friend.

"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."

"She was the first lady of stand-up comedy," her publicist Fred Wostbrock told Reuters. "She paved the way for everybody."

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