A former homemaker and radio station copywriter, Ms. Diller entered show business at 37 in part to support her growing family. She made her stand-up debut at San Francisco’s Purple Onion nightclub in 1955, drawing largely from her early classical piano training by parodying the purring chanteuse Eartha Kitt.
When the initial audience response was tepid, Ms. Diller refined her act until her stage persona was perfected, cutting out the musical routines when her monologues proved more successful. She carried an unlit cigarette holder on stage because she said it gave her “an excuse to hold up one hand . . . an attention-getter.”
After establishing herself on the comedy club circuit, she deepened her popularity with appearances on TV programs including Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life” and Jack Paar’s “Tonight Show” in the late 1950s. She had a one-woman show at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1962 and starred in several films with Hope, including “Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!” (1966) and “The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell” (1968).
She appeared as salty nightclub hostess Texas Guinan in the film drama “Splendor in the Grass” (1961) and starred in the ABC sitcom “The Pruitts of Southampton” (later renamed “The Phyllis Diller Show”) in 1966 and 1967.
Her distinctive vocal qualities brought her work through the 1990s and 2000s, notably as the voice of Thelma Griffin, the chain-smoking, gambling mother of Peter Griffin, a central character on the animated Fox sitcom “Family Guy.”
Phyllis Ada Driver was born in Lima, Ohio, on July 7, 1917. Her father was an insurance salesman in his 50s and her mother was a housewife 20 years his junior. For that era, her parents were unusually old to start a family, and Phyllis was their only child.
Ms. Diller said she felt emotionally distant from them. “When I was kidnapped,” she later joked, “they wouldn’t pay the ransom — they didn’t want to break a 10.”
While in high school, she participated in stage productions and studied classical piano.
She studied at the Sherwood Music Conservatory in Chicago before transferring to Bluffton College in Ohio with the hope of being a teacher.
In her senior year, she eloped with a fellow student, Sherwood Diller, who came from a wealthy Bluffton family. They eventually settled in San Francisco and, in time, had six children, one of whom died in infancy.
To augment the family income, Ms. Diller began taking copywriting jobs for an Oakland department store and radio station. On the side, she discovered she had a talent for making her friends and neighbors at PTA meetings giggle as she joked about her harried domestic life.
Although her husband encouraged her growing interest in stand-up comedy, she said it was chiefly for financial stability. In the 1950s, a self-help book called “The Magic of Believing” spurred her to pursue a new career.
Her marriages to Diller and actor Warde Donovan ended in divorce. Two children from her first marriage died, Peter Diller in 1998 and Stephanie Diller in 2002. Survivors include three children from her first marriage, Perry Diller, Sally Diller and Suzanne Mills, all of Los Angeles; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
Ms. Diller indulged in more than a dozen plastic surgeries, which she discussed candidly in her comedy routines. “When I die, God won’t know me,” she joked. “There are no two parts of my body the same age. If I have one more facelift, it’ll be a cesarean.”
The title of her 2006 autobiography, “Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse,” came from a comic routine about her clothes: “You think I’m overdressed? This is my slip. . . . I used to work as a lampshade at a whorehouse. I couldn’t get one of the good jobs.”
Ms. Diller’s exaggerated character became a humorous protest of the housewife ideal and echoed the frustrations of many American wives. She offered something to women that male comics could not. Relief.
“The only thing domestic about me is that I was born in this country,” she once joked. “I serve dinner in three phases: serve the food, clear the table, bury the dead.”