Phyllis Diller, the housewife turned humorist famous for her runaway hair, cigarette holder and witch's cackle, died Monday morning in Los Angeles at age 95.
"She died peacefully in her sleep with a smile on her face," her longtime manager, Milton Suchin, told The Associated Press.
Diller was a stand-up when female comedians were rare and a periodic Las Vegas headliner from 1964 to her farewell performance at the Suncoast in May 2002.
The comedian was a trailblazer on the Strip. She crashed a men's club when she made her showroom debut at the Flamingo in November 1964, having worked her way up to headliner fame since she decided to try her hand in comedy in 1955, at the age of 37.
She was told the male comedians "were very upset about a chick doing it. But you know what? The reason they were upset, I was always starring in the big room and these guys were still in the lounges," Diller told the Review-Journal in 2002.
Diller so enjoyed Las Vegas that she bought a second home behind the Boulevard Mall in the late 1960s.
"I love to cook, and I don't like room service," she noted in 2002.
Though she lived another 10 years, Diller stayed true to her pledge of not performing after the 2002 Suncoast engagements, filmed for a subsequent DVD. She had weathered a 1999 heart attack and was worried about her continued ability to remember an hour's worth of material.
"Henny (Youngman) used to come out and sit down and use cue cards. I'm not going to do that," she said. She also watched Dean Martin struggling to complete shows in his final years. "I was there. I saw that. We don't want that," said the comedian who was 84 at the time.
Diller built her stand-up act around the persona of the corner-cutting housewife ("I bury a lot of my ironing in the backyard") with bizarre looks, a wardrobe to match (by "Omar of Omaha") and a husband named "Fang."
Wrote Time magazine in 1961: "Onstage comes something that, by its own description, looks like a sackful of doorknobs. With hair dyed by Alcoa, pipe-cleaner limbs and knees just missing one another when the feet are wide apart, this is not Princess Volupine. It is Phyllis Diller, the poor man's Auntie Mame, only successful female among the New Wave comedians and one of the few women funny and tough enough to belt out a 'standup' act of one-line gags."
"I was one of those life-of-the-party types," Diller told The Associated Press in 1965. "You'll find them in every bridge club, at every country club. People invited me to parties only because they knew I would supply some laughs. They still do."
Her first husband, Sherwood Diller, prodded her for two years to give up a successful career as an advertising and radio writer.
"We had five kids at the time. I don't know how he thought we'd handle that," she told the AP in 2006.
But she did, starting out in The Purple Onion comedy club in San Francisco.
"It looks very easy once it's done. You don't realize what a person has gone through once they get there," Diller noted in 2002.
Her husband managed her career until the couple's 25-year marriage fell apart in the 1960s. Shortly after her divorce she married entertainer Warde Donovan, but they separated within months.
Through both marriages and other relationships, the foibles of "Fang" remained an integral part of her act.
"Fang is permanent in the act, of course," she once said. "Don't confuse him with my real husbands. They're temporary."
She also appeared in movies, including "Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number" and "Eight on the Lam" with Bob Hope.
Her Las Vegas career included the Sands in the mid-1970s, the Las Vegas Hilton and the Riviera, where in 1983 she noted that punk rockers had stolen her look.
Stressing the importance of timing and rhythm, she said in 2002 that "if you can't dance to comedy, forget it. It's music."
As for the cackle? "It's my real laugh," she once said. "It's in the family. When I was a kid, my father called me the laughing hyena."
Her looks were a frequent topic, and she did everything she could to accentuate them - negatively. She wore outrageous fright wigs and deliberately shopped for stage shoes that made her legs look as skinny as possible.
"The older I get, the funnier I get," she said in 1961. "Think what I'll save in not having my face lifted."
She felt different about plastic surgery later, though, and her face, and other body parts, underwent a remarkable transformation. Efforts to be beautiful became a mainstay of her act.
Commenting in 1995 about the repainting of the Hollywood sign, she cracked, "It took 300 gallons, almost as much as I put on every morning." She said her home "used to be haunted, but the ghosts haven't been back since the night I tried on all my wigs."
She recovered from a 1999 heart attack with the help of a pacemaker, but finally retired in 2002, saying advancing age was making it too difficult for her to spend several weeks a year on the road.
"I have energy, but I don't have lasting energy," she told The Associated Press in 2006. "You have to know your limitations."
After retiring from stand-up, Diller continued to take occasional small parts in movies and TV shows ("Family Guy") and pursued painting as a serious hobby. She published her autobiography, "Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse," in 2005. The 2006 film "Goodnight, We Love You" documented her career.
Her other books included "Phyllis Diller's Housekeeping Hints" and "Phyllis Diller's Marriage Manual."
When she turned 90 in July 2007, she fractured a bone in her back and was forced to cancel a planned birthday appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." But it didn't stop her from wisecracking: "I still take the pill 'cause I don't want any more grandchildren."
Born Phyllis Driver in Lima, Ohio, she married Sherwood Diller right out of school (Bluffton College) and was a housewife for several years before getting outside work.
She was working as an advertising writer for a radio station when her turn at The Purple Onion launched her toward stardom.
She made her network TV debut as a contestant on Groucho Marx's game show "You Bet Your Life."
"Don't get me wrong, though," she said in a 1982 interview that threatened to turn serious. "I'm a comic. I don't deal with problems when I'm working.
"I want people to laugh."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.