Two-Time CCPA Performer, Beloved Comedian Phyllis Diller Dies at 95

Locals may recall the famous comedian performing at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts -- the most recent performance being in 2001.

Comedian Phyllis Diller, whose wild hair, trademark laugh and mix of bawdy and self-deprecating humor made her a variety show and nightclub favorite, died in Los Angeles Monday at age 95.

Diller died at 9:30 a.m. at her home, according to her longtime manager Milt Suchin.

"The world has lost a true trailblazer, a gracious and classy woman who blazed the way for all other female comics," Suchin told City News Service. "She was a very special, special lady, very supportive of young comics."

Suchin said Diller had recently injured her wrist and was recuperating at home. 

She was found by her son Perry, "with a smile on her face,'' Suchin said.

A cause of death was not immediately released, though website TMZ.com reported that Diller had been sick in recent months after hurting her wrist and hip in a fall.

Performed at the Cerritos Center for Performing Arts on Two Occassions 

Cerritos and Artesia locals may recall the outlandish comedian hitting the stage at the stage with her colorful and oft zany humor on two occasions, the first being during the 1994-95 season. She most recently performed at the Cerritos theater on Sept. 23, 2001 alongside two-time Grammy Award-winning singer Jack Jones.

"Ms. Diller's approach to comedy is unique," the CCPA news release promoting Diller's 2001 performance stated. "She writes most of her own material, editing her words to be able to tightly deliver 12 punch lines per minute.  And she strictly avoids off-color jokes and situations, even in today's permissive atmosphere. There is seemingly no particular order to her zaniness, but, simply stated, she is always funny."

Her Brush With Death in 1999

Diller suffered a near-fatal heart attack in 1999. She told "Entertainment Tonight" at the time that she had considered suicide.

"Yes, I would have (committed suicide)," she said. "But see, when you want to and you can't move, there isn't anything you can do about it. There isn't anything around here that I could use for suicide.

"I'm terribly glad that I didn't do it because I will be working again ... I'll be around to watch my grandchildren. I love to work, you see. I got new jokes."

A Late Bloomer to the Comedy World

Born Phyllis Ada Driver, the comic didn't start her show biz career until the age of 37.

At the time, she was a working housewife and a mother of five, employed as a publicist, newspaper writer and columnist at a San Francisco radio station.

Urged by her husband, Sherwood Diller, she prepared a nightclub act and was booked into San Francisco's Purple Onion.

She slithered around the piano, lampooned current celebrities, brandished a cigarette holder and made fun of high fashion. Originally booked for two weeks, Diller's act received such rave reviews that it was extended for almost two years.

Combining wild costumes, untamed hair and a raucous laugh with self- deprecating monologues, she won national acclaim with her mid-1960s television routines featuring "Fang," her imaginary husband.

In addition to television, film and stage work, Diller made five records, wrote four best-selling books and has performed on piano with more than 100 symphony orchestras.

Although she largely retired about 10 years ago, Diller would still show up in bit parts, including lending her distinctive voice to the animated Fox comedy "Family Guy."

"I adored her," singer Barbra Streisand said of Diller. "She was a wondrous spirit who was great to me."

Comedian Bob Newhart also hailed Diller as a trailblazer who had a unique style that will never be repeated.

"The thing that strikes me most about Phyllis, aside from a joy to be around, was her uniqueness," Newhart said. "There was no one like Phyllis before, and I doubt if there will be anyone after."

Funeral services were expected to be private.

- MarieSam Sanchez and City News Service contributed to this report.


Were you a fan of Phyllis Diller? Did you ever watch her live? Did you attend any of her peformances at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts?

Dennis August 21, 2012 at 05:30 PM
A talent that will be missed. I believe she was actually at the theater at least 3 times. She performed twice as mentioned. I recall she was a member of the audience for Frank Sinatra's opening night along with may other famous people.
MarieSam Sanchez (Editor) August 21, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Good to know Dennis! Did you happen to see her at the CCPA in person? If so, what was she like? She seems to have such an energetic presence to her. Definitely a loss for the entertainment world.


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