Phyllis Diller used to say that freckles were kisses from the sun. Then, noting her own spotted complexion, she’d look skyward and wisecrack, “All right, lover. Enough!”
It wasn’t just the sun that loved Phyllis Diller, who died at her Brentwood home Monday at the age of 95. Her fans spanned generations and also included the top names in the business she fought so hard to break into – and then remained, to elicit gales of laughter for more than 50 years.
“What she accomplished was something I don’t think younger people can even grasp,” Kathy Griffin, 51, told PEOPLE on Monday.
“At a time where there were only three networks, I am guessing that at the height of Ed Sullivan or Johnny Carson, something like 40 or 50 million people watching, was such an inspiration for young female comedians like myself.”
As Griffin also noted, “In the era of Lady Gaga, Phyllis Diller did the same thing – she wore the crazy outfits wherever she went and she spoke fearlessly and she had one goal in this world, which was, make us laugh. And she did it.”
“Phyllis has been a dear friend for many years. She was a pioneer for women stand-up comedians,” Carol Burnett, 79, said in a statement. “I was with her a few weeks ago, and she had me on the floor with a few choice jokes. Funny, charming and loving … I’ll miss her.”
Barbra Streisand, 70, who was starting out as a young singer at the same time Diller, already approaching her 40s, was breaking into comedy, said: “I adored her. She was a wondrous spirit who was great to me.”
Added Griffin: “I was so heavily influenced by her, honestly, because watching television, and wanting to be a female comedian, there really was no one like her.”
As the clip below demonstrates, this is absolutely true. Thanks for the laughs, Phyllis.
• Additional reporting by RAHA LEWIS