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Comedy Star Phyllis Diller Dead at 95

Comedienne Phyllis Diller, the former housewife whose raucous cackle and jokes about her own looks made her one of America's first female stand-up comedy stars, died on Monday at age 95, her agent said.

"She was a true pioneer she was the first lady of stand-up comedy," her agent, Fred Wostbrock said. "She paved the way for everybody. A true pioneer."

Diller created an indelible persona with her distinctive braying laugh, a cigarette holder, teased hair, outlandish costumes and a fictional lout of a husband she called Fang.

Her act consisted of rapid-fire jokes and one-liners that often spoofed social pretenses by poking fun at herself ("I went bathing nude on the beach the other day; it took me 20 minutes to get arrested") as well as a world of invented characters.

In addition to husband Fang - "What would you call a man with one tooth that was 2 inches long?" - there was her mother-in-law Moby Dick, her skinny sister-in-law Captain Bligh and her neighbor Mrs. Clean.

Diller prided herself on keeping her jokes tightly written and boasted that she held a world record for getting 12 laughs a minute.

A late-bloomer by show business standards, Diller got her start at age 37, making her debut at San Francisco's Purple Onion in 1955 as she broke into the male-dominated comedy circuit. Her first national exposure came as a contestant on Groucho Marx's TV show "You Bet Your Life."

At that time Diller was a housewife who had raised five children, as well as a newspaper columnist, publicist and radio writer.

She discovered a flair for stand-up jokes at school parent-teacher meetings and similar gatherings and decided to make comedy a career at the urging of her then-husband, Sherwood Diller. The couple divorced in 1965 and a second marriage to singer Warde Donovan ended 10 years later.

Diller gradually adopted the props, zany wardrobe and stage persona that would become her trademark.