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Comedian Phyllis Diller Had Us Laughing For Decades


Okay. It can be a sensitive matter to mention a woman's age, but if people failed to mention it, Phyllis Diller was liable to bring it up herself. Diller died at home in Los Angeles yesterday at the age of 95, after decades of making people laugh by poking fun at herself, as she did in this stand-up performance in 2004.


PHYLLIS DILLER: You know you're old when your walker has an airbag.


DILLER: And your birthday cake looks like a prairie fire.


DILLER: And your birth certificate is on a scroll.


DILLER: Halley's Comet goes over and you say, there it goes again.


DILLER: Somebody compliments you on your alligator shoes, and you're barefoot.



That was her final stand-up performance, the end of a career that lasted for decades, even though she started late. Born Phyllis Ada Driver in Lima, Ohio, she didn't get into comedy until she was 37 years old and married with five kids.

INSKEEP: Her husband was chronically unemployed, and though she called herself a born comic, she told the Archive of American Television that it was just poverty that drove her to start performing.

DILLER: Remember, I'm motivated by money. I've got these children, and no home. Homeless family of seven for five years. That was my motivation.

INSKEEP: The motivation worked. Phyllis Diller went on to perform on "The Ed Sullivan Show." She appeared with the likes of Bob Hope and Sammy Davis, Jr., in films and on television. She performed on Broadway as Dolly in "Hello Dolly."

GREENE: Diller was also a self-described good cook, an accomplished painter, a classical pianist, and a singer. Here she is singing "Smile," in a recording from earlier this year.


DILLER: Smile as though your heart is aching, smile even though it's breaking.

INSKEEP: Phyllis Diller was almost 90 when she talked with NPR's Scott Simon about growing old.


DILLER: Look at all the old comics who lived to be a hundred. I can name two - George Burns, Bob Hope. Milton Berle, 96. What do you think keeps them alive? Laughter. Comedy.

INSKEEP: Phyllis Diller laughed on the way to age 95 and kept many other people laughing along the way.


DILLER: ...smile, what's the use of crying. You'll find that life is still worthwhile, if you'll just smile. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.