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RIP Phyllis Diller, author of ‘Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse’

Comedian Phyllis Diller, who died in Los Angeles on Monday at age 95, was never shy. Her personal life -- as a housewife and as a woman with distinctive features -- became part of her stand-up routine. It also created the fodder for two books: “The Joys of Aging -- and How to Avoid Them” and “Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy.”

Diller began making a name for herself in 1955 at the Purple Onion in San Francisco. She was a rare female comic in the stand-up world and soon perfected a rapid-fire banter that poked fun at domesticity and suburbia. As 1960s culture and counterculture blossomed, she picked up on the extreme fashions to create an outrageous onstage persona: Diller wore psychedelic dresses and wild wigs, wielded a cigarette holder and laughed an unmistakable laugh. She was known for her one-liners and became the most prominent comedienne of her generation.

In “The Joys of Aging -- and How to Avoid Them,” published in 1981, the 64-year-old Diller joked that there are giveaways to having an old birth certificate or other identification. “Your document is old if: It’s written in Latin.... Your driver’s license has a picture of you in auto goggles.... Your auto is insured against collision, theft and Indian raids.”

In the book, which was excerpted in The Times, she also wrote jokingly about plastic surgery. “TV is always looking for new faces.... I thought I’d give them one. It’s not easy to remember the exact moment I decided to have a face lift.... Was it when I went to unload my troubles to a psychiatrist and he said, ‘You’re crazy!’ I said, ‘I’d like another opinion.’ He said, ‘OK, you’re also ugly!’”

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That comes right out of her stage routine.

Later, Diller wrote a memoir, “Like A Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy” which was published in 2005. In it, Diller fondly recalled her early days performing in San Francisco, when the local talents included beat poets, strippers, Mort Sahl and Johnny Mathis.

Diller wrote about her career on stage and screen; she appeared in three films with Bob Hope, her idol, and was a regular on television variety shows. For many years, she also performed as a concert pianist, something she had studied as a young woman in Ohio.

The book, co-written with Richard Buskin, also included serious details from Diller’s life. Topics include her first marriage, which ended in divorce; her second husband’s substance abuse problems; and the deaths of two of her five children. She also wrote about continuing to work as a voice actor, including her role in the 1998 movie “A Bug’s Life.”

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Read our full obituary of Phyllis Diller here.

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