Phyllis Diller, a zany housewife-turned-stand-up comic with the electrified hairdo, was known for her outlandish wardrobe and her ability to deliver a barrage of self-deprecating jokes punctuated by her trademark laugh.
As a professional comedian, Diller was a late bloomer: The Ohio native was an Alameda, Calif., mother of five when she made her nightclub debut at the Purple Onion in San Francisco in 1955 — at age 37.
Known for her adept timing and precisely structured jokes, Diller took pride in being able to deliver as many as 12 punch lines per minute.
The first laugh came easy. With her fright-wig hair, a fake-jeweled cigarette holder, gloves, ankle boots and garish attire, she merely had to walk on stage.
Diller was always the first to address her colorfully eccentric stage persona, describing herself as “The Elizabeth Taylor of ‘The Twilight Zone’” and a woman who once worked “as a lampshade in a whorehouse.”
During her long career, she was in more than two dozen movies, including three with Bob Hope, with whom she also appeared on numerous TV specials and traveled to Vietnam to entertain U.S. troops.
She rose swiftly up the show business ladder, appearing as a contestant on Groucho Marx’s TV quiz show “You Bet Your Life” in 1958, the same year she made the first of many appearances on “The Tonight Show” with Jack Paar.
By 1962, she was performing at Carnegie Hall.
Unlike most performers, the older Diller got, the better she looked. Of course she had help — a lot of it.
Diller’s publicist initially warned her not to get a face-lift, believing that a new and facially improved Diller would ruin her career.
Instead, Diller's changing face simply provided her with more comic fodder for her act:
“I've been done over so many times that no two parts of my body are the same age,” she’d say in her act. “When I die, God himself won’t know me. My face has been pulled up more times than Bill Clinton's pants.”