Although she has made her career in comedy, Diller studied as a serious piano student for many years. She later decided against a career in music after hearing her teachers and mentors play with much more talent than she thought she'd be able to achieve. She still plays in her private life, however, and owns a custom-made harpsichord which she prizes.
Diller seemed to be everywhere in pop culture in the 1960s. She appeared regularly as a special guest on many television programs during that decade. For example, she did a stint as one of the What's My Line? Mystery Guests on the popular Sunday night CBS-TV program. The blindfolded panel on that evening's broadcast included Sammy Davis, Jr., and they were able to discern Diller's identity by way of her distinctive laugh in just three guesses. Also, Diller made regular cameo appearances making her trademark brief & pithy wisecracks on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Self-deprecating to a fault, a typical Diller joke had her running after a garbage truck pulling away from her curb. "Am I too late?" she'd yell. The driver's reply: "No, jump right in!"
Though her main claim to fame is her stand-up comedy act, Diller also has appeared in other films besides the three mentioned above, including a cameo appearance as Texas Guinan, the wisecracking nightclub hostess in the 1961 Hollywood production of Splendor in the Grass. She appeared in more than a dozen, usually low-budget movies, including as "The Monster's Mate" in the Rankin/Bass animated cult classic Mad Monster Party (1967), co-starring Boris Karloff.
Diller also starred in two brief television series: The Pruitts of Southampton on ABC in 1966 and the variety show The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show on NBC in 1968. More recent television appearances for Diller have included a guest spot on the long-running family drama, 7th Heaven, where she hilariously boozed it up while cooking dinner for the household, and The Drew Carey Show, as Mimi Bobek's grandmother. She posed for Playboy, but the photos were never run in the magazine. Her voice can be heard on Scooby Doo as herself, Jimmy Neutron as Jimmy's grandmother, and on Family Guy as Peter Griffin's mother.
Hollywood films have continued to capitalize on Diller's charm and recognizability. In 1998, Diller parlayed her unique cackle into the vocals for the Queen in Disney/Pixar's animated movie A Bug's Life. In 2005, Diller was featured as one of many contemporary comics in a documentary film, The Aristocrats. Diller, who avoids working blue, did a version of an old, risqué vaudeville routine in which she describes herself passing out when she first heard the joke, forgetting the actual content of the joke.
On January 24, 2007, she appeared on The Tonight Show and performed stand-up, before chatting with Jay Leno. Leno asked her to come back on her birthday for a celebration, and she said she'd be delighted.
Diller had a cameo appearance in an episode of ABC's Boston Legal on April 10, 2007. She appeared as herself, confronting William Shatner's Denny Crane character, alleging to have had a torrid love affair with him in the past. They seemed to have enjoyed a romantic moment in a foxhole during World War II.
Diller is a member of the Society of Singers, which supports singers in need. In June 2001 at the request of fellow Society member and producer Scott Sherman, she appeared at Kansas City and Philadelphia Pride events in support of gay pride and rights. The mayor of Philadelphia officially proclaimed June 8, 2001, as "Phyllis Diller Day" in Philadelphia. On stage she was presented an official proclamation to a standing ovation. In 2006, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom proclaimed February 5, 2006 "Phyllis Diller Day in San Francisco," which she accepted by phone.
She has also recorded at least five comedy LP's, one of which was Born To Sing, released as Columbia CS 9523.
Although known for decades for waving cigarette holders in her comedy act, Diller is a lifelong nonsmoker, and the cigarette holders were stage props that the nonsmoking comedian had specially constructed.
Diller has candidly discussed her plastic surgery, a series of procedures first undertaken when she was 55. The results have drawn numerous awards and acknowledgments from plastic surgeons and medical organizations. In 1993, she was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
Diller has been married and divorced twice. She also dated Earl "Madman" Muntz, a pioneer in oddball TV and radio ads. She had five children from her marriage to her first husband, Sherwood Anderson Diller. Her daughter Sally has suffered from schizophrenia for most of her life. Diller's second husband was Warde Donovan, who turned out to be gay. Two of her children have predeceased her, both dying of cancer, and her youngest son Perry, now 55, oversees her affairs today. One of Phyllis' offspring is not actress Susan Lucci, despite an urban legend to that effect, often showing up in people's e-mailboxes as "Did You Know...?" trivia.
Recently, Diller has suffered serious medical problems, including a heart attack in 1999. After a hospital stay she was fitted with a pacemaker and released. A bad fall resulted in her being hospitalized for tests on her head and pacemaker in 2005. She has since retired from stand-up comedy appearances. She wrote her autobiography in 2005, titled Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse. A direct-to-DVD version of the project, complete with early live clips of Diller, and interviews with her showbiz colleagues including Don Rickles, among others, was released in December, 2006. A screenplay about Diller's early years in stand-up, according to blind items in the trades, is in preproduction with Patricia Clarkson slated to play the comedienne in a film due to be released in 2007.
"A smile is a curve that sets everything straight."
"Aim high, and you won't shoot your foot off."
"If you don't have wrinkles you haven't laughed enough."
"Always be nice to your children because they are the ones who will choose your rest home."