Carol Channing, who became a legend on Broadway through her performances as golddigger Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died.
The New York Times reports that Channing died early today at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She was 97.
Her publicist, B. Harlan Boll, reported that Channing had two strokes in the past year.
“Ms. Channing was bringing audiences to their feet night after night in a revival of ‘Hello, Dolly!’ when she was 74, singing, ‘Wow, wow, wow, fellas, / Look at the old girl now, fellas,’ resplendent in her scarlet gown and jewels, her platinum hair crowned with red plumage,” The Times reports. “Ten years later she was still getting applause, this time for a cabaret act. Nine years after that, just a few days before her 93rd birthday, she appeared at Town Hall in Manhattan as part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the night ‘Dolly’ opened.”
The Times quotes Channing saying during her last Broadway appearance, in a “Hello, Dolly!” revival in 1995: “Performing is the only excuse for my existence. What can be better than this?”
“Ms. Channing was one of the most recognizable presences in the theater world. Her tousled hairdo, headlight-size eyes and exaggerated mouth were the subject of countless caricatures. For many years her real hair, damaged by bleaching, was covered by a wig,” The Times adds. “Her false eyelashes, worn at a fantastic length since she was a teenager, posed a more serious problem. The glue that was used to attach them gradually pulled out her natural lashes, and Ms. Channing began painting on the long spikes.”
Channing was nominated for an Oscar in 1968 for her supporting role in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a role that also won her a Golden Globe.
She was a presence on television throughout her career, making guest appearances on variety shows including “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Mike Douglas Show,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” “The David Frost Show,” “The Dean Martin Show,” “The Joey Bishop Show,” “The Andy Williams Show” and “The Tonight Show” going back to the Jack Paar era.
Channing also starred in her own TV specials and TV movies, including “An Evening with Carol Channing” in 1966, “Carol Channing and 101 Men” in 1968, “Carol Channing Proudly Presents the Seven Deadly Sins” in 1969 and “Carol Channing’s Mad English Tea Party” in 1970.
And she made the rounds of the TV game shows, where she was a fixture on “Password,” “I’ve Got a Secret,” “What’s My Line” and more than one incarnation of “Hollywood Squares.”
Here’s a clip of Channing performing “Hello, Dolly!” …