renowned comic and actress, phyllis dillerdied yesterday. she was 95.

halloween, 1994, i dressed up as phyllis diller. i had met her earlier that year at the st. croix casino. my brother and i sat through what was probably our first comic routine and it certainly was, for the most part, way over our heads. i may not have gotten all her jokes but i remember thinking i liked the way she could make the whole room laugh. and i loved the way she laughed. (the one joke i do remember her telling–and i don’t know why this has stuck w me–is “what is birth control for old people? nudity.”).

afterward, my family got to go backstage and meet w the comic icon. my mother had made her a phyllis doll — it was wearing a sequin gown and had crazy blonde hair. she thought it was hysterical. i remember her vividly, as well as the bright lights around her dressing room mirror. by the time we got back there she had removed her wig. she talked to my brother and i like adults she respected. we were 9 and 11.

phyllis diller was born phyllis driver. that’s my maiden name, and the driver line i come from. though perhaps not first cousins with my grandfather, she was second or once removed or some other confusing connection like that. but still. i’m pretty proud of this connection as she’s an epic, brilliant, talented woman. and beloved and respected. i think that’s pretty cool. if you have met me in person and heard my laugh, you will understand where i might possibly have gotten it from. or at least that’s what i’d like to think

last night my father, david, sent me copies of some letters she had sent him. i’m including them here, along with a photo of me by her hollywood walk of fame star from our 2010 california trip. additionally, here’s a link to the NPR news short on the announcement of phyllis diller’s death.


12 Responses to farewell, phyllis diller

  1. Marcie says:

    You had her belly laugh at 3 years old.

  2. Koan says:

    That’s pretty cool! The letters especially. I need to write more letters.

  3. melinda sue says:

    what a lovely gift to receive from a far off family memeber, laughter.

    the letters were lovely. i would die to see that doll your mama made, (as we already have all fallen in love with the doll she made sweet ramona).

    • David says:

      Melinda Sue, it was as long as one of those white boxes long stem roses are gifted in since she made the legs so long (and skinny) boots included. In fact, that’s what Marcie packaged and delivered it in. It was very cool and lifelike in a doll kind of way.

  4. Amanda says:

    This is incredibly special. My mom and I were always fans.

  5. Lashley says:

    Yesterday, I asked some of the newbies at work (recent college grads) if they’d heard about Phyllis Diller passing away. …Crickets… I felt so old! Anyway, that is a cool connection and one to be proud of!

    FYI, according to your second cousin thrice removed (that’s what I’ll call her) in her 1986 Fresh Air interview, she was a COMIC, not a comedienne, not a comic actress.

  6. David says:

    Your G.G. Grandfather (Benjamin on the list above) and Phyllis’ father (Perry) were brothers. So Benjamin’s son, Gale Early Driver, and Perry’s daughter, Phyllis Driver, are cousins.

    Gale Early Driver is your G Grandpa & whom your brother, Brian Early Driver, was named after.

    I have no idea whether Lashley’s designation is correct, but I’m going with it.

  7. PJ says:

    What a very cool story! So did you know you were related before meeting her in ’94? I would love to see a photo of you dressed up as Phyllis Diller!

    • emily says:

      we did! please see my father’s explanation above (she was a cousin of my great grandfather). the driver side has always been very proud of our relation to phyllis diller. and i just learned my father met her in the 60s when he was just a lad like when i first met her (geesh, i cannot believe that was nearly 20 years ago).

  8. Lashley says:

    By my genealogical math, Phyllis Diller is your, Emily, first cousin thrice removed. That is, if we can use thrice in such a casual way. She is your dad’s 1st cousin twice removed. Her grandkids would be your dad’s third cousins and her great-grandkids would be your fourth cousins. I just made a diagram.

  9. leigh says:

    Oh, wow, Emily! What an amazing connection.

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