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Phyllis Diller, Legendary Comedian, Is Dead

In this May 20, 1966 file photo, comedian Phyllis Diller appears in character in the ABC-TV comedy series "The Pruitts of Southampton."

Phyllis Diller, who was known for her trademark self-deprecating humor and laugh, has died at 95.

Diller made her name with her standup routines on shows like Ed Sullivan, where she dressed outrageously and could often be seen holding a long cigarette. Her dress was so it elaborate, it rivaled that of Liberace's, whom she appeared with.

The AP reports that according to her longtime manager she died in her sleep on Monday. The AP adds:

"Diller was a staple of nightclubs and television from the 1950s until her retirement in 2002. She was famous for her distinctive laugh and portrayed herself as a bizarre housewife with a husband named 'Fang.'

"She would tell audiences that 'I bury a lot of my ironing in the back yard.'"

In an interview with the Comedy Hall of Fame, Diller said she never intended to become a comedian. She was a housewife with five children. But her husband told her, she was born a comedian.

One day she relented and based her comedy on the travails of life in a home.

In another interview for the Archive of American Television, she also attributed her trademark laugh to chance.

"That wasn't on purpose ever," she said. "In the beginning it was nerves!"

In 2005, she spoke to NPR's Scott Simon about her memoir.

She told him that when she first started performing some took her comedy as dirty. But she never intended that she said.

"I wanted to become me, totally me," she told Scott. "The more me, the better. I instinctively knew this and I was right. My attitude, my material, and me —those were the components that distinguished me from the rest of the field right from the start.

"Everybody who walks onstage has an attitude, but whereas Mort Sahl had a superior and somewhat condescending attitude, my audiences recognized that with me they were only encountering mock hostility. I wanted to make them laugh, I wanted to make them happy. I had a spirit, baby, I was strong, and it was almost as if there was a field of light around me. When your whole body is electricity, you can use it, and I was able to capitalize on material that no one else had in their artillery."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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