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Famed Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand impressionist Jim Bailey dies at 77

Famed Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand impressionist Jim Bailey dies at 77

Jim Bailey, who rose to fame in the early 1970s as a female celebrity impressionist, died over the weekend.

He was 77 and died of complications from pneumonia.

Bailey specialized in performing in drag and was best known for his amazing impressions of the likes of Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Phyllis Diller.

Ed Sullivan gave Bailey his first real national television exposure and the performer went on to appear throughout the 1970s on such popular programs as The Dean Martin Show, The Carol Burnett Show, The Mike Douglas Show, The Tonight Show, The Merv Griffin Show and Here’s Lucy as Streisand, Garland, Diller, Peggy Lee or, on occasion, himself.

‘From the first minute on stage when I am Barbra Streisand, I look like her, talk like her, I have her mannerisms and sing like her,” he said in an interview on his website, ‘I am Barbra, not an imitation, lip-syncing or a witty impression. When I made my Las Vegas debut in 1970, I opened doors for all the guys who came to town in dresses.’

For Bailey, it all began with Diller.

‘When I first moved to Los Angeles, I met Phyllis,’ he explained in the same interview. ‘I became a camp follower of hers – sort of followed her around. I mimicked her at parties – did one-liners. Someone advised incorporating her into my act, which I did, but not for several years.’

While Diller was first, it was performing as Garland for which he was best known.

‘After Phyllis Diller, I decided I should take on a character that sings,’ he said. ‘Garland seemed like a natural, and I was a huge fan of hers.

‘In the beginning, I performed for Judy – we socialized at her house. I absorbed everything like a sponge, and filed it away. Sometimes she would say, “You should do it more this way,” or get up and sing a song for me, almost as if she were giving me a tip. I found her presence so powerful, sometimes I still can’t believe she is not here. I still have her phone number in my address book.

‘I’ll never forget one night in 1969, shortly before her death, I was performing in Los Angeles. Judy caught my act and loved it. Afterwards, she put her arms around my neck and said, “I never realized I was that pretty.”‘