At 90, Phyllis Diller says she's never been happier
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When you think of Phyllis Diller you probably remember the laugh even more than the outrageous get-ups she wore for her zillion performances as a standup comedian.
I heard the laugh just once, and briefly at that, when we talked on the phone the other day. She was at home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles.
Ms. Diller turns 90 tomorrow and there's not much to laugh about at that age. Primarily, she admits, health is often the bad news .
"The body is wearing out," she says. "Simple as that. I know people say reaching 90 is better than the alternative, but not necessarily." She paused. "Not necessarily."
But she sounded terrific and seems to have better hearing than I do.
She has had her share of health problems through the years and explained just the other day that with a slight twist of the body she cracked a disk in her back. It forced her to cancel tomorrow's appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and one last week before the Television Critics Association.
"Never had anything so painful in my life," she said.
"But to answer your question. I think reaching 90 you do have a better grip on life, more wisdom, a fulfillment of some kind and development of character.
"It's also learning a little about relaxing and not going at high speed 100 percent of the time. You have to accept that."
How would she celebrate her birthday? Well, three parties, of course. Doesn't everybody? She still loves to dress up and go out.
And to no less a posh place than the Bel Air Hotel.
"My beau is having over 40 people for one party," she said.
Pardon me? Your beau?
"Oh, yes, I always have a beau," she said demurely. I remembered she had just lost a gentleman friend she cared a great deal about the last time we talked. They had dated for about 10 years.
"This one is younger [maybe 70]. And healthier!" she exclaimed. "They were actually kind of overlapping beaus, as I dated them both at the same time." And there came the famous laugh.
She thought for a moment about regrets in her life. "I had a lot of property at one time, in L.A., Las Vegas, New York. I got dreadful advice and sold a lot of it. I should have kept it.
"Truthfully, I've never been happier or busier. My second career as a painter has been incredible -- incredible. Loves of my life are my children, my work, my friends, although many of my friends are circling the grave. I retired in 2002, and that's when I discovered painting. I always want to be able to do just one more."
She has four grandchildren, and they all live near her. A great-grandchild is expected in September, and it will be the first girl born in the family in 60 years. She's thrilled.
The book about her life, published a few years ago, wasn't a great success. She blames the title, "Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse," the suggestion of the book's author, as the reason for its failure. Nobody knew what it meant. She used to say that's what she looked like when she went on stage. Few people knew that. But she's not bitter.
Born in Lima, Ohio, she's done it all: movies, television, nightclubs, art, piano. Her star is on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
But more than all of that, she is such a loyal friend.
The late Pittsburgh comedian Don Brockett used to send her comedy material. (She could use a dozen one-liners in a minute in her stand-up routines.) And she was often a guest in his home in Pittsburgh.
When she had returned to California some years ago, a Goodwill truck pulled up in front of the Brockett home on Darlington Road in Squirrel Hill.
An old-fashioned sewing machine that had been made into a coffee table was delivered with a note attached that simply said, "LOVE, Phyllis." (She always capitalized all the letters.)
Leslie Brockett Wohlfarth remembers a dinner party in their honor at Ms. Diller's Brentwood home, prepared with humor. Tucked into each beautiful salad was a very realistic-looking plastic insect.
A year ago I also had a surprise package in the mail. It was a gold chain with a heavy Civic Arena charm on it. The card said simply, "LOVE, Phyllis."
We got off the phone when her assistant Karla told her that Betty White -- another comic actress, who's now 85 -- was holding on the other line.
Ms. Diller is warm and generous and memorable. We wish her well. She has brought so much joy into the lives of millions with her humor for the past 50 years.
She has delivered it with warmth and LOVE.Associated Press
Phyllis Diller in a 2003 file photo.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published July 15, 2007 8:09 pm