Just a month after her 95th birthday, legendary comic Phyllis Diller died on Monday (20 August) at home in Los Angeles surrounded by her family.
Diller began working as a stand-up comic in the 1950s and is credited with paving the way for the likes of Joan Rivers, Roseanne Barr and Margaret Cho, among others.
Diller had a gay following from the beginning.
‘My first audience were gay people because they have a great sense of humor,’ she once said. ‘They love comedy and they love to laugh. How do you think they got the word gay put on them?’
Among those reacting to the news of Diller’s death were lesbian comics Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O’Donnell and Sandra Bernhard.
‘We lost a comedy legend today,’ DeGeneres wrote on Twitter. ‘Phyllis Diller was the queen of the one-liners. She was a pioneer.’
Tweeted Bernhard: ‘It was an honor to know her to laugh with her to be inspired by her. Without her none of ladies could have ever made it. #phyllisdiiller we will miss you.’
O’Donnell posted a photo of herself and Diller with this message: ‘What a joy she was.’
A then-unknown Barbra Streisand was Diller’s opening act at a Greenwich Village nightclub called The Bon Soir in the early 1960s (see photo below) and was featured frequently on game shows such as What’s My Line? and variety shows such as Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.
Diller appeared alongside Bob Hope in 23 television specials and three films and frequently entertained US troops with Hope for the United Services Organization.
Diller was a standout in the 2005 documentary The Aristocrats and was still working as late as 2007.