Carol Channing, who died on Tuesday at the age of 97, was a one-of-a-kind performer who left a unique mark on the entertainment industry.
A Broadway veteran with stage roles in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Hello, Dolly!, Wonderful Town, The Vamp, and more, Channing’s gravely voice and quirky personality helped her stand out from her contemporaries. Throughout her seven-decade career, Channing created a number of memorable roles — though the beloved actress’ uniqueness made her the sort of star who rarely disappeared into a role.
“Doesn’t matter what the name of the character, it’s always Carol,” explained one commentator in Channing’s 2012 documentary, Larger Than Life. “And that’s what makes a star. Nobody ever says, ‘Get me a Carol Channing type. There aren’t any.”
Below, here are the Channing’s most memorable moments.
Diamonds are Channing’s best friend
Before Marilyn Monroe played Lorelei Lee in the 1953 film, Channing starred as the ditzy diamond-loving blonde in Jule Styne’s stage musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes back in 1949. She led the show until 1951, and even returned to to the role of Lorelei in an adaptation of the show (1974’s Lorelei). Over the years, Channing would perform songs from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on TV, including a 1957 performance of “Diamond’s Are a Girl’s Best Friend” seen here.
Singing her signature songs in Hello, Dolly!
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes may have been the show that catapulted Channing into stardom, but it was Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! that made her a legend. Her role as Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi in the original 1964 Broadway production earned Channing her first Tony. She would later tour with the show all over the world, and return for two Broadway revivals — first in 1978 and again in 1995. Here, at the 1971 Tony Awards, Channing sings “Before the Parade Passes By,” her character’s rousing Act 1 closer. And below, she performs Dolly!‘s title song on British television in 1979.
Flying high in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967)
Channing’s performance as Muzzy Van Hossmere in Thoroughly Modern Millie earned her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress, and a Golden Globe award. And while the film, which co-starred alongside Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore, has a number of classic moments (including Channing’s tune, “Jazz Baby“), it’s her reading of the line “raspberries” that became a favorite among fans. Years later, drag queen Pandora Boxx would drop the line while impersonating Channing on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Duetting with Goldie Hawn on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (1969)
By the late ’60s, Channing was a frequent variety show guest, including a visit to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In on NBC where she sang a duet with then-newcomer Goldie Hawn about the misconceptions about blondes called “Blondes Aren’t Necessarily Dumb.” All went well until the end, when the two fittingly flubbed the lyrics.
Channeling her inner “Soul Sister” on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (1970)
A year after her tune with Hawn, Channing returned to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In where she wigged out with singer Theresa Graves in “Soul Sister” — a song about Channing trying to channel her inner “sister with a lot of soul.”
Jamming as a Queen in Alice in Wonderland (1985)
The television film musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland — which Channing starred in alongside Sherman Hemsley, Shelly Winters, Scott Baio, Sammy Davis Jr., Martha Raye, Sid Caeser, Ringo Starr, Ernest Borgnine, Steve Allen, Beau Bridges, Lloyd Bridges, Patrick Duffy, Merv Griffin, Donna Mills, John Stamos, and Sally Struthers — isn’t necessarily a classic in an of itself. But Channing’s wild and kooky turn as the White Queen has become a bit of a cult favorite over the years, especially for her inspired performance of the song, “Jam Tomorrow, Jam Yesterday.”
Rapping on the 58th annual Tony Awards (2004)
Leave it to LL Cool J to get Channing to rap! While presenting the award for best original score at the 2004 Tony Awards, the “Mama Said Knock You Out” emcees rhymed a hip-hop version of “Hello, Dolly” — which had Channing dancing and rapping herself!
Returning to the stage at Gypsy of the Year (2010)
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ annual Gypsy of the Year competition, which celebrates two months of curtain-call fundraising by the Broadway community, kicked off its 22nd evening with a tribute to a then 87-year-old Channing. It was a glorious homecoming for Channing, who had been away from the stage for awhile. Flanked by an all-male chorus, she delighted the sold out crowd with renditions of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and the title song from “Hello, Dolly!”
Channing’s longtime publicist B Harlan Boll confirmed the star’s death to PEOPEL on Tuesday, saying the star died at 12:31 a.m. at her home in Rancho Mirage, California, of natural causes.
“It is with extreme heartache, that I have to announce the passing of an original Industry Pioneer, Legend and Icon – Miss Carol Channing,” the statement read. “I admired her before I met her, and have loved her since the day she stepped … or fell rather … into my life. It is so very hard to see the final curtain lower on a woman who has been a daily part of my life for more than a third of it.”
Continued Boll’s statement, “We supported each other, cried with each other, argued with each other, but always ended up laughing with each other. Saying good-bye is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but I know that when I feel those uncontrollable urges to laugh at everything and/or nothing at all, it will be because she is with me, tickling my funny bone.”