“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 standup, 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 a comedy turn at San Francisco's Purple Onion nightclub launched her toward stardom.
She made her network TV debut as a contestant on Groucho Marx's game show, “You Bet Your Life.” (Diller, asked if she was married: “Yes, I've worn a wedding ring for 18 years.” Marx: “Really? Well, two more payments and it'll be all yours.”)
She credited the self-help book, “The Magic of Believing” by Claude M. Bristol, with giving her the courage to enter the business. For decades she would recommend it to aspiring entertainers, even buying it for them sometimes.
“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.”
Associated Press writers John Rogers and Polly Anderson contributed to this report.