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Interview With Phyllis Diller

Aired July 9, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Phyllis Diller, exclusive in her first heart-to-heart since she said so long to stand-up. The grand dame of comedy dishes about dying three times, depression, divorce, plus facelifts and Fang. Phyllis Diller headlining here, taking your calls, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

It was all the rage. The tabloids made mirth of it and praised it at the same time, because Phyllis Diller has hung it up, as they say. You have retired.

PHYLLIS DILLER, COMEDIAN: Well, I wouldn't use that word.

KING: What is the word?

DILLER: Well, only one part of what I do, the stand-up and the travel. That is what has -- I've just -- no more of that.

KING: So what is left? What will thou do?

DILLER: Oh, well, I'll do television, movies, books, painting. I'm going to paint.

KING: Boy, she paints. We can't get a close-up of it here because we just learned about it, but at a quick glance, this lady is a potential Matisse. Look at this stuff.

DILLER: See there, I'm a painter.

KING: Were you always a painter?

DILLER: Yes, but I never had time. No place. You see, once I got rid of all the kids, I got some rooms.

KING: Now you show and sell, right?

DILLER: I show and sell.

KING: Why the decision to stop?

DILLER: Oh, darling, I'm too old.

KING: Too old for the travel?

DILLER: Oh, yes, travel. Besides, I don't have the energy that I had when my heart was young. Remember when your heart is young and gay? My heart is old and...

KING: When we think Phyllis Diller, the first thing we think is the stand-up comedian. You were a trailblazer.

DILLER: For women.

KING: Right, absolutely.

DILLER: In fact, when I started, there weren't even any men doing it singly. They were all duo. Owen and Martin...

KING: Martin Lewis.

DILLER: Martin Lewis, everybody. Everybody was doing two guys. That's different than single stand-up.

KING: How did you get that start?

DILLER: Well I just...

KING: Young Phyllis Diller.

DILLER: Young? I was not young.

KING: When she was young, was she funny?

DILLER: Probably.

KING: Were you funny in class?

DILLER: Yes -- not in class, no. I was too interested in getting out of class.

KING: How did -- when you decided I want to be a stand-up person in show business, the odds were stacked against you, weren't they?

DILLER: Yes, they were, because I had five children and a husband who couldn't make a living, but that helped because somebody had to do it.

KING: So you were how old when you...

DILLER: Thirty-seven.

KING: Up to 37 you were a housewife?

DILLER: Housewife, mother.

KING: So how would you make that first step, a 37-year-old woman?

DILLER: I had an audition...

KING: Where?

DILLER: ...and they were desperate. Purple Onion. They needed a comic quick.

KING: That was where, in San Francisco?

DILLER: San Francisco. Best place in the world to start.

KING: Because?

DILLER: They drink.


They're in a good mood. Boy, they sit down, they're in a good mood.

KING: So you -- what was that first night like for a 37-year-old housewife?

DILLER: Terrified! Terrified! However, the most terrifying thing was that it's a little teeny club, they seat 170, basement on rainy days it would drip right down on the stage, the rain, through the sidewalk.

But the thing is I only had 17 minutes of material. And here come the second group, but half of the group stayed. Now, you can clap...

KING: Oh, I see.

DILLER: You can clap for a song all night long, but when you have heard a joke, that is it for the night.

KING: So you walk out on stage for the second night?

DILLER: Half of these people...

KING: You were a hit in the first half?

DILLER: Yes, well, my friends and -- friends, people who...

KING: But now they left, and the other half stayed.

DILLER: Well, half of them even stayed. But that was it. I developed two shows so fast, you couldn't believe how fast.

KING: Were you funny around the house?

DILLER: Yes, I'm a funny person.

KING: Did someone say to you, Phyllis...

DILLER: Oh, yes, everybody.


DILLER: Well, he was not Fang. But Sherwood Diller kept pushing me, pushing me. KING: That was your first husband?

DILLER: Yes, right. You lose track even with two.

KING: Fang was the second, right?

DILLER: No, no, no, there was no Fang. Fang is the act.

KING: There was never a Fang. Fang is the prop?

DILLER: See, here is the problem. Joan Rivers used to talk about Edgar.

KING: There was an Edgar.

DILLER: All right. Now she can't talk about Edgar. And Tony used to talk about -- what was it?

KING: What was his name? Gosh, it was funny.

DILLER: God, was she funny. Oh, she -- what a great opening. Her opening line. You got a one word opening for a lady comic is ideal. Or even any comic. She used to come out, she's cross-eyed, built like a hassock and terrible hair and she would say, I'm perfect.

Dean Martin, he would come out and -- with a drink, and he would look at the audience, and he would kind of weave and then he'd walk, never a word. They're clapping, carrying on. Then he walks over to the piano and says to his pianist, "How long have I been on?"


Did you know that -- you're a stand-up comic. You know, the getting on, how to say hello to an audience.

KING: Important, yes. I love it.

DILLER: Oh, one of the last things I learned was that.

KING: I don't get to -- you know, the only time I get to do is when I make speeches.

DILLER: Boy, are you good.

KING: Thank you. But there's nothing like it.

DILLER: You're a stand-up.

KING: That's the biggest thrill in the world. When they laugh, that is it.

DILLER: Baby, what about Seinfeld? Seinfeld and Robin? They've all gone back to stand-up. They miss it.

KING: And so will you.

DILLER: No, no, no, no. Not me. No, no, no.

KING: Because?

DILLER: I'm too old. I'm too old.

KING: Too old to travel?

DILLER: I'm 85.

KING: What if you could materialize in a club without having to travel? What if you could just play clubs here?

DILLER: No. There isn't a club here that...

KING: So even walking on the stage is hard now?

DILLER: No. No. I can get on. I used to run. Now I tire on the stage.


KING: I got it here. Your last show in Vegas was the same weekend my wife opened for Don Rickles. Shawn sang and Don Rickles entertained at the Stardust and you were at the Sun Coast Casino. That was your last live...

DILLER: On the Cinco de Mayo.

KING: What was it like to say good-bye?

DILLER: I'm not that -- I'm not emotional.

KING: You were not?

DILLER: No, no, no. There wasn't anything special. There were no flags, no rockets. Just my last show.

KING: Did you tell them that?


KING: Didn't even say goodbye?

DILLER: Are you kidding? To me that is sloppy, darling.

KING: You don't play to the lowest common denominator?

DILLER: No, I don't.

KING: You're shrewd.

Now, the tabloids reported that you were supposed to be in a play called "Dear Sheldon" with Jim Bullock, who played Monroe (ph) on the TV show "Too Close for Comfort." You were quoted as saying that he started out questioning the plot, and you just didn't think it would work and were not there to play it and walked away. What's the story? DILLER: Darling, you know, because of my heart thing I'm short of breath, a lot. I didn't have the breath to do that show. There is no way I could have done that show. I don't know what I was thinking!

At the reading I realized I couldn't even read it one time without -- I had to go lie down. Sometimes in the morning, I'm very short of breath.

KING: Why work at all, then? Why not take it easy?

DILLER: Well, I'm not really working. Painting is not work.

KING: Yes. Painting is not work.

What is your heart condition?

DILLER: I have a pacemaker. It's wonderful. It works fine. But it doesn't bring me up to speed. In other words, I don't have the breath or the vocal strength.

KING: When a friend of mine reached 80, he said getting old is a bitch. Is it?

DILLER: Oh, worse. It's worse! It's a pain in the ass!

KING: Well put. As we go to break, we will be taking calls for Phyllis Diller. Here is her last appearance on stage. Watch.


DILLER: ...a little bit embarrassing. I went into a lingerie department one day and I said to the lady, I'd like to see something in a bra, and she said, "I bet you would!"

Then she tried to get me to try on a certain dress and she says, "Madam, you have got to try this dress on. It will give your husband ideas. It is so sexy." I said, "What, does a brain come with it?"



KING: We're back with Phyllis Diller, now retired from stand-up, but not retired from the business, or from painting. Did you -- was it a big break, Jack Paar?

DILLER: Oh yes, oh yes.

KING: Did he -- had he seen your work, or you were booked on the show?

DILLER: He -- oh, here is the way it happened. I was working number one, Fifth Avenue, you know, in New York. Everybody has worked that. And the guy who was playing for me, the piano, called the show every day, tonight to get me on, and every day they said no. And the guy who used to book the show, O'Malley (ph), used to come in, and he was a dear friend, and a buddy. And he wouldn't book me. But Harold Flonville (ph) called him every day, every day, every -- this is a lesson for everybody who wants to...

KING: Never give up.

DILLER: Vedevachacha (ph). So one day, they -- bring the old broad in.

KING: And history was made. This was not the first show, but let's show you on Jack Paar -- Phyllis Diller.


DILLER: ... love to go to the doctor. Where else would a man look at me and say, "Take off your clothes?"


But from then on, it's very square. Yes, he leaves the room because he is a coward.


KING: Was that nervous for you?

DILLER: Oh, terrifying.

KING: What a shot that was.

DILLER: Darling, for ten years, I was terrified. For ten years. In the show, and in person, and on stage. I mean, shaky. I mean -- well, it was all new material. I didn't have that much material.

KING: You always wrote your own?

DILLER: Yes. I bought a line at a time, but I have never bought a bit.

KING: But you always, always made fun of your own features...


KING: And bang you inventive...


DILLER: I invented everything. I invented a whole comic strip of characters.

KING: And the idea was self-deprecating, right?

DILLER: Yes, yes. Everybody -- I knocked everybody. My mother- in-law, my sister-in-law.

KING: Let's watch Phyllis Diller with the legendary Groucho Marx -- watch. DILLER: Oh, Grouch (ph).


DILLER: So I decided I should be analyzed, and I went to this analyst. He has helped me a great deal. In fact, I am so much better now that I get to sit up.


Well, he has cured me of a lot of things that were making me pretty insecure -- insecure, like -- well, I used to be freckled (ph), and he cured me of that. It is just rust (ph).



KING: You are saying that was weak material?

DILLER: Very weak, and so slow. See -- you know when I quit, I quit at the peak, at my very best. I wanted to quit at my best, while I can still do it.

KING: Did it come harder, by the way? Or easier?

DILLER: What do you mean?

KING: Doing comedy, stand-up.

DILLER: I'm a natural.

KING: You were.

DILLER: I'm born to do it.

KING: Let's watch another shot of early Phyllis Diller on the historic "Ed Sullivan Show."


DILLER: I've got the world's worst record wrapped up for myself. You wouldn't believe it. See, the first time I ever drove downtown, everything went wrong, and it wasn't my fault, none of it, it was my husband's fault, although he was not even along. He had put the car in the garage backwards. Well, that shot the heck out of my map. Right away, I went out the wrong end of the garage.


KING: Cigarette was a prop?

DILLER: At the time. At the time.

KING: When did you first have this health problem, this major heart trouble? That was three years ago, correct? DILLER: Yes, yes.

KING: What -- you nearly died.

DILLER: Well, I did die.

KING: Explain.

DILLER: Well, I had fibrillation -- that's what you call it, fibrillation, and a pulse of 150. And you start feeling just awful.

KING: You ought to have that little thing -- they put a pacemaker in you.

DILLER: But they didn't get it in there. They should have done it right away.

KING: Cheney has one.

DILLER: Does he?

KING: Yes. Fibrillator.


KING: That starts the heart up if it...

DILLER: Yes, it keeps it beating. See, if I didn't have that, I would be dead again, for good.

KING: So you died?

DILLER: Three times. They brought me back mouth-to-mouth, you know, and with the things on the chest. If you think I was flat before...

KING: Were you at all aware of what was happening?

DILLER: No, no. Excepting when I died, each time I knew this is it, goodbye.

KING: Did you think you bought the bullet?

DILLER: I knew I did. I was gone.

KING: What went through your mind?

DILLER: I'm dying -- I'm dead.

KING: Did you have pain?

DILLER: No, no pain. There is -- and there is no -- it's not that bad.

KING: Dying ain't bad?

DILLER: I know.

KING: Now that you have had it, you can tell us all, dying is not all it's cracked...

DILLER: It's not big.

KING: How were you saved?

DILLER: Mouth-to-mouth.

KING: And that got the heart going again?

DILLER: And there was either a male or a female nurse around to give me that mouth-to-mouth thing, where they breathe and get your heart started again. See, if I could have just gotten that pacemaker the day I went in.

KING: Yes.

DILLER: But I go -- you go to the hospital, and they give you staph infections and all kinds of infections, and then they take X- rays of your nostrils everyday.

KING: Were you a good patient?


KING: But you're used to hospitals with plastic surgery. We are going to get to that right -- you are a veteran of that.

DILLER: Oh, darling. Now -- oh, yes. All right.

KING: I'll get to that in a minute. Your current condition, then, is what? If your cardiologist was sitting here, he would say Phyllis Diller has...

DILLER: Short of breathness. Short breath. I am short of breath. But right now, I'm fine because I'm looking at you.

KING: But you can get short of breath, walking down the street, if you walk quickly?

DILLER: Well, I have to baby myself.

KING: Are you worried about dying?

DILLER: No. Not at all. Because when I die, I won't have any bills, I won't have any problems. I won't have people beating on the door.

KING: You are going to be how old on July 17?

DILLER: Eighty-five.

KING: Eighty-five.

DILLER: There are no two parts of my body the same age.

KING: Did you ever think you would be 85?

DILLER: I tell you what...

KING: I have had people, 85, say I never thought I would be 85.

DILLER: Really?

KING: Yes.

DILLER: Well, I had a sinking feeling I might, because my father lived to be 88. You know, the first thing the doctor asks you, when did your mother, when did your father, but when I got past my mother's die age, which was 68, I took a long breath.

KING: When was the period with depression?

DILLER: Oh, when I was paralyzed.

KING: When was that?

DILLER: The doctors got the drug things all wrong.

KING: This was how long ago?

DILLER: When I had my heart thing.

KING: Oh, that is when you had the depression. You didn't have depression prior...

DILLER: The doctors -- too many drugs for this body. They -- it was eighteen doctors who were putting -- each had their favorite drug.

KING: How did you handle it?

DILLER: Well, I went home.

KING: Did you think of killing yourself?

DILLER: Yes, I did. I thought I would -- well, I didn't -- I thought I would just stop eating. You know, that is one way to do it. But I got so hungry.

And then my real doctor, the doctor I adore and love, who understood me and loves me, came. And I'm in a wheelchair, I can't move, and he said, give her a martini.

That was the...

KING: That was the start?

DILLER: That was the start of the back -- to life.

KING: So, in other words, forget Prozac, Zoloft. A martini...


KING: ... gin martini, depression over?

DILLER: For me. For me.

KING: The amazing Phyllis Diller, more as she hangs up her career in stand-up, and not a career of you seeing her, or her art. You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. We will be back. Phone calls in a little while. Don't go away.


DILLER: Damn, it is awful getting old. You know, I am trying to keep it all together. I just got my armpits dry, and now my elbows leak. My G-string is clear down to D flat. And you know, when you get older, you get dry and brittle. When you put your moisturizer cream on, your skin shouldn't go...




BOB HOPE, ENTERTAINER: Tell us, you really were one the pioneers for women in stand-up comedy.

DILLER: You make me sound like I ought to be wearing buck skin.

Of course, it isn't a bad idea, because I've tried every other kind.

HOPE: When did you first get your start in stand-up comedy?

DILLER: Oh, I don't know. It's in all the history books.


KING: What was he like to work with?

DILLER: Oh, The most fun.

KING: Generous?

DILLER: Oh, yes. Generous to a fault.

KING: He wanted laughs from...

DILLER: He didn't care who got them.

KING: Before I talk about plastic surgery...


KING: Did you pose nude for "Playboy?"

DILLER: Yes, twice. Two shootings -- two shootings and none of them ever ran.

KING: What happened there?

DILLER: I was really ticked off, boy.

KING: Give me the story.

DILLER: It was my face that was bad. My body was all right.

KING: How did they contact you? How did this work?

DILLER: They sent an Indian...


No, no. I don't remember how it really...

KING: This was in the '60s, right?

DILLER: I'll tell you what happened. Remember Mama Cass?

KING: Yes, sure.

DILLER: All right. Papas and the mamas.

KING: "Mamas and the Papas."

DILLER: Well, what do I know? OK, they did a centerfold of her. She was a fat lady.

KING: Oh, yes.

DILLER: OK. Now you know, I was always talking about being flat, always tell them I'm flat, I got nothing under here, and they thought we will follow the fat-fat with the skin-skin skinny.

They get me down there and find out I got tits.

KING: Ruined the whole thing?

DILLER: Ruined it all.

KING: What was it like to pose for them?

DILLER: Well, they played beautiful music, gave me lots of champagne, and all the lights blew out. Honest to God. Now, they gave me what to wear the first time. And...

KING: What was it, like sheer negligee?

DILLER: Oh, please. Shaggy thing. I've seen Halloween outfits that cost more. So they wanted to do it again, and I said let me set up one. So I was nude on a bear rug like babies.

KING: Were you disappointed it didn't run?

DILLER: I don't know.

KING: Would you liked to have had it run?


KING: Did your husband mind?

DILLER: No, they don't mind. They don't care.

KING: All right. Tell me the first thing you ever did plastic surgery-wise.

DILLER: The first thing I ever did was the big thing! I had a complete facelift. Eye lift, neck lift.

KING: In one shot?

DILLER: Everything at once.

KING: What age?

DILLER: Nose job, eye (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ...

KING: What age?

DILLER: How old was I? How old was I in 1970? How old was I?

KING: That's 32 years ago.

DILLER: It's 55 or fifty-something. Yes. Something like that.

KING: What prompted you to do it?

DILLER: I was ugly.


DILLER: I had a broken, crooked nose.

KING: But you played off that.

DILLER: Oh, yes. There were people who said, "Your career is over! You dum-dum, you."

KING: That's right. So why did you do that, since ugly was part of your -- my schtick?

DILLER: Listen, another thing.


I used to get all -- Halloween, my income skyrocketed. I played every witch, sold more candy, and after the facelift, never got another witch role.

KING: Why did you do it? DILLER: My nose was too long. When you get a long nose on a woman and you have no upper lip, you have got a witch.

KING: Why did you do it, then?

DILLER: Oh, I did it because I had bags under my eyes.

KING: That is you there.

DILLER: There I am. I did get a witch role, didn't I?

I forgot about that one. I was a good witch. That is that Wizard of Oz thing. I was on wires. That was only '75 when I did that.

KING: OK, but what was it like to go through plastic surgery?

DILLER: There is no pain. I want people to know that.

KING: No pain?


KING: By the way, I'm thrilled to learn this, the academy -- American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery has saluted you with a special award, saying you have caused a tremendous breakthrough and acceptance of the field, first person to have the courage to proclaim the surgery and show the results publicly. Why did you do that?

DILLER: Because I'm just an honest person. I think it's a good thing, and it would never occur to me to lie.

KING: And you know you look different.


KING: What was it like when you look and they take the bandages off?

DILLER: Oh, you're still raw meat.

KING: You don't look good?

DILLER: Give it six weeks, at least.

KING: After you take the bandage off, do you not look in the mirror?

DILLER: You look terrible. Well, they tell you it's as if you had a head-on accident going 50 miles an hour.

KING: So when do they tell you to look again?

DILLER: Oh, six months.

KING: And then what? DILLER: Hey, hot damn. Boys line up.

KING: And what does it do to you mentally?

DILLER: Mentally you are a new person.

KING: So if you're telling people if you want to do it, do it, there is no shame in doing it?

DILLER: There is no shame, no. And...

KING: How about people who are doing it all the time? Tummy tucks and booby tucks and...

DILLER: People -- you can get addicted...

KING: You can?

DILLER: You can get addicted and you get too much and then...

KING: Did you ever get addicted?

DILLER: No. I'm not -- I'm not an addictive person.

KING: How many plastic surgeries have you had?

DILLER: I've had a few.

KING: Like?

DILLER: I'll tell you about it.


DILLER: I've had another nose job. I fell and broke it, and I had another nose -- I've had a forehead lift, which lifts your eyebrows, and then I had cheek implants, which give you nice hollows here. You know, the Marlena Dietrich hollows. What else did I have? I had a peal.

KING: A peal?

DILLER: They -- takes the whole outer thing off.

KING: Skin off.

DILLER: Yes, I wear it every Halloween. I save it.

KING: Do you do things -- have you done things below the neck?

DILLER: You're not listening.


Yes, I had a breast reduction.

KING: So you playing flat-chested all those years?

DILLER: And I -- that's why I had to wear dresses that showed nothing. That is what disappointed the "Playboy" people.

KING: So you had a breast reduction. What was that like, the breast reduction?

DILLER: And lift. I had it put back on my body.


KING: What was that like? What did that feel like?

DILLER: There is no pain, but you lie down...

KING: Did you ever do liposuction?

DILLER: No. I didn't.

KING: Is that next?

DILLER: No, I'm not going to have that. People have died from that. I don't want them with a vacuum cleaner in my gut. OK?

KING: That doesn't appeal to you?

DILLER: No. Not at all.

KING: But nothing else about it scares you?

DILLER: I had a tummy tuck. This is before lipo. They didn't even know about -- well, they took three pounds of fat. Actually, it was mayonnaise, mashed potatoes and gravy, out of my stomach.

KING: There was no fear of being cut so much?

DILLER: And butter, butter, a lot of butter.

KING: No fear of being cut so much?

DILLER: No fear. See, by then I had learned not to be fearful. I grew up afraid of everything, petrified, and then I read a book that turned me completely around and made me fearless and...

KING: What? Do you remember the book?

DILLER: Yes, "The Magic of Believing" by Claude Bristol. Fabulous book. At least, it spoke to me, and it didn't talk about God. Because when they talked about god, I...

KING: Lost you?

DILLER: Lost me.

KING: So you -- and you swear there was no pain attendant to your tummy tucks and... DILLER: Oh, a little discomfort. Discomfort.

KING: But worth it?


KING: Well, then we go to break. We'll come back with more of our salute to Phyllis Diller tonight, Phyllis Diller, who has retired from stand-up comedy, and this is her first major interview since making that claim.

A previous guest on this show, a great guy, died today, Rod Steiger. What an actor. We are going to repeat our interview in full with Mr. Steiger come Sunday night. We will be right back.


DILLER: Don't worry about the hair. It's a wig. I've outlived my hair. I've outlived most of my body, and I'm trying so hard -- oh, God, I've had so many things done to my body, when I die God won't know me.




DILLER: Fang was in a wretched mood. He was doing push-ups in the nude and he didn't notice the mousetrap.


DILLER: Because he's so dumb, he went up to a thermostat. He said, "Seventy! My God! I've lost 90 pounds!"



KING: Where did you get that outfit?

DILLER: Oh, ho! Australia.

KING: Oh...

DILLER: That was very chic. You see, it was making fun of the current -- remember when the shoulders of women got so wide?

KING: So you went wider.

DILLER: Well, some guy in Australia really went nuts.

KING: Let's take some calls for the wonderful Phyllis Diller. Atoka, Tennessee, hello.

CALLER: Hey. What was the...

KING: Oh, yes, go ahead.

CALLER: Yes. What was the toughest part of getting to be 85?

KING: Yeah.

DILLER: The toughest part of it?

KING: Yeah, aging.

DILLER: Oh, that's a very good question.

KING: We have a very good audience.

DILLER: You certainly do.

KING: What is the answer, while you're thinking for it?

DILLER: Well, the toughest part of getting to be 85 -- well, being 84.

KING: No, is -- what's the toughest part of aging for you?

DILLER: Well, getting wrinkled and weak.

KING: The process.

DILLER: The process sucks. You get weak and ...

KING: Pains ...

DILLER: ... weaker and weaker and weaker. I'm fortunate that I -- well, the gin.

I'm so fortunate I am not...

KING: Gin works.

DILLER: ... I'm not racked with pain.

KING: Branford, Connecticut, hello.

CALLER: Yes. I'd like to say that I've enjoyed Miss Diller and you for a long time, Larry. A lot of years you've given me an awful lot of pleasure.

And I'd like to know from Miss Diller, was it three times you did expire? What were her experiences, if any?

DILLER: Well, yes. There's just nothing to experience. You just -- you lose consciousness, and that's it.

KING: You didn't see a white light.

DILLER: I didn't -- no, no, no. There were -- nobody there, and no light at the end of the tunnel. And there was no tunnel.

At one point I did see colors. One death was green and another one was blue. They call it code blue at the hospital, when it goes flat, the line, see?

KING: Calgary, Alberta, Canada -- hello.

CALLER: Oh, hello. I've watched you all my life and have been quite baffled.

I was just wondering if you could tell me when all this ugliness started, because I actually find you to be quite an attractive woman. And I notice there's a lot more -- there's a lot more comics out there that are far uglier than you are.

So I was just wondering where this all started?

DILLER: Well you didn't see me when I was ugly. When I first started, I was just terribly ugly and unattractive. But it worked very well for me, and ...

KING: Were you an ugly duckling kid?

DILLER: No, I was a pretty good looking kid.

KING: When did it change?

DILLER: I had an accident. I got in a car at the age of nine and I couldn't get it stopped. And I made pretty much hamburger out of my face with the steering wheel in it.

KING: Couldn't -- you were driving it?

DILLER: I'm driving it.

KING: At age nine.

DILLER: At nine, nine.

KING: What prompted this?

DILLER: I've got it started -- well, I wanted to drive the car.

KING: Where was this?

DILLER: On a farm, thank God. Because I was headed toward the open road.

I thought, well if I -- took me a little time to figure out how to stop this turkey. And I had a real fat aunt sitting behind me.

And this was a Model T, and those -- they had those funny little chairs that -- she hit the chair and I hit the ...

KING: Wow.

DILLER: That's what broke my nose.

KING: Savannah, Georgia, hello.

CALLER: Good evening.


CALLER: Thank you, Phyllis, for so many wonderful laughs.

I'd like to know your most memorable moment in show business, and if you plan to write about it.

And by the way, we have the same birthday.

DILLER: Oh, then you've got a good birthday. That's a good day.

There was one show I had in Chicago when the audience actually must have been breathing with me. I was so exhilarated when I came off. It was almost like a spiritual experience, you know, ...

KING: Really.

DILLER: Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. I had never had such a perfect show. It was perfect from hello to good-bye.

And then I went up the wrong ramp and couldn't get in the dressing room.


DILLER: That's...

KING: You going to write a book?

DILLER: I'm suppose to. I must. I just must.

KING: Sure, you must. Because, I mean, look at this, what you've got some -- in fact, you were honing, you were -- I'm told that you were doing things before you started getting on stage, as that 37- year-old woman, right?

DILLER: Well, yes. I had sold a little teeny article, and I was a copywriter. I ...

KING: You kidded people at parties.

DILLER: Oh, I was very funny.

KING: Entertained, went to veterans hospitals, Red Cross volunteers, ...

DILLER: Well that was -- that was when I decided. My husband said, you've got to become a comic.

And I was just working, you know, I'd go down and do something at the naval air station. And my pay would be a turkey -- live. Honest to God. They gave me a live turkey.

KING: What did you do with it?

DILLER: Well, I took it home with me and tried to make friends with it.


DILLER: But, damn, they've got a nasty disposition.

And so, it was bedtime, it was three in the morning. So I put the -- we lived in a terrible, a horrible housing project. So I tied him to the doorknob -- outside.

He got loose. Ha! Ha! And he's walking around in the play area, and the people across the way, they knew that if there was a turkey loose, it had something to do with me.

KING: Yeah.

DILLER: So they came over and said, we're farm people. We'll kill that and share it with you.

So they killed the turkey and we shared it.

KING: How many children do you have?


KING: Did any of them go into show business?

DILLER: Yes, three of them did.

KING: Doing...

DILLER: Two boys were musicians. One girl was an actress. But they all ...

KING: Let it?

DILLER: ... left it.

KING: And now they're grown and...

DILLER: They're grown. They're old. Some of them are older than I.


KING: So you're a great-grandmother?

DILLER: Not a great...

KING: But a grandmother.

DILLER: I'm a grandmother.

KING: Good grandmother?

DILLER: Fabulous. I don't bother them.

KING: Don't -- you...

DILLER: I play cards with them.

KING: With your grandchildren.

DILLER: With the grandchildren.

KING: Well, they're -- how old are they?

DILLER: And I've got to fix dinner for them or take them out to eat.

Well, they are -- let me see -- the youngest is 16, to 32.

KING: Thirty-two-year-old grandchildren ...

DILLER: Oh, yeah, yeah. When you get to be old, you have old -- well, you know, I used to have a line when I was young.

I said, you want to look younger? Rent smaller children.


DILLER: And how do you know they're getting older? The bite marks are higher.


DILLER: Go kick your father hello.

KING: We'll be back with more of Phyllis Diller and more of your phone calls. Don't go away.


HOPE: Here is Dr. Phyllis.


DILLER: Oh, don't be so formal. Just call me doc, or Phyllis -- or what my boyfriends call me -- hey, baby!


DILLER: Oh, boy. This looks like some lively correspondence this morning. Whoopee.

My husband thinks there's no excitement anymore in our bedroom. What should I do?

Short-circuit his electric blanket.





DILLER: Would you believe that I once entered a beauty contest? I must have been out of my mind.

I not only came in last, I got 361 get-well cards.


DILLER: Now, I don't want you to get the idea that I have given up on my looks. I will never give up. I am in my 14th year of a 10- day beauty plan.


DILLER: When I go to bed at night, I've got so much grease on my body, I wear snow chains to hold up my gown.



KING: Boy, that was a weird-looking face you had.

DILLER: Yeah, tell me. Witch.

KING: Yeah, it was a weird-looking...

DILLER: Witch, weird, weird.

KING: Phyllis had -- talking about writing another book -- she had best-selling books like "Phyllis Diller's Housekeeping Hints," "Phyllis Diller's Marriage Manual," "The Complete Mother," and "The Joys of Aging and How to Avoid Them."

Are you going to do another biography?

DILLER: I must. I want to.

KING: Good.

DILLER: I can't promise.

KING: Joshua Tree, California -- hello.

CALLER: Hello. Oh, Phyllis, I absolutely love you.

DILLER: Oh, ...

CALLER: You always make me laugh.

I'm wondering, who makes you laugh today? And who's your favorite comedian of all time?

DILLER: Don Rickles puts me away pretty good.

KING: On the floor, down...

DILLER: On the floor...

KING: ... dead, goodbye.

DILLER: ... on -- just ...

KING: Since first one ...

DILLER: ... puts me away.

KING: ... hello.

DILLER: "Hello" puts me away. He's a darling man and he's soft as a marshmallow. But, boy, does he put me away.

And we've got a lot of cute new lady comics who -- and, but Don is strong -- energy.

I like a lot of energy and a lot of strength. I like to be put away.

KING: I like to laugh.

DILLER: But not just yet.

KING: West Palm Beach, Florida, hello.

CALLER: Hi. I'm happy to be saying hello to Phyllis.

I would like to know what your children thought of your being away so much when you were first starting out, and how ...

KING: Yeah. How did they do?

CALLER: ... how they reacted to mom being gone all the time?

DILLER: The only downside of my fabulous, 47-year career was the separation from children, especially when they were young and needed me and needed guidance and needed a mother.

That was the downside.

KING: Do you have regrets?

DILLER: Well, I don't have regrets, because there wasn't anything I could do about it. I couldn't do it any other way. It was better to feed them than to be there to ...

KING: Was your husband the house-husband?

DILLER: Well, he didn't even do that well. He just sat around and drank beer, and didn't know what was going on.

KING: Did the kids mind?

DILLER: The man was sick -- I must tell you -- the man was -- he had a case of total anxiety. He could not work, he couldn't -- he was sick.

KING: Total anxiety.

DILLER: Total anxiety.

KING: Anything upset him.

DILLER: Oh, well, he couldn't leave the house. Sometimes he -- I couldn't get him to take a bath. I mean, this man was wing-ding- ding-ding.

KING: Was he one of those people -- agoraphobe, like what ...

DILLER: Oh, yes. He got that. Finally ...

KING: Didn't go out of the house.

DILLER: ... absolutely. Barber had to come and cut his hair in the house, or he'd try to get one of the kids to cut his hair.

KING: How did the kids handle all of this? A mother away, a father ...

DILLER: Oh, geez. Well, they grew up great.

KING: See? It can happen.

DILLER: I was with them till the youngest was six. And they say, as a twig is bent. And I bent a lot of twigs.


KING: Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Miss Diller and Larry.


CALLER: I love your laugh, Miss Diller. It's so wonderful.

My question is, who among the great comedians of old were you -- did you have your most personal friendships with, close relationships with?

DILLER: Well, Bob Hope was my guru. And then my -- oh, God -- he taught me a great deal, and he was very critical, and taught me delivery and timing. And I copied him a lot. And I was his caddy. And I learned nothing about golf, excepting that he has a clean mouth.

KING: He does. He doesn't curse.

DILLER: No, he -- I did the cursing. And I loved doing movies with him and ...

KING: What was his secret, if there is that? What ...

DILLER: Secret? He was brilliant.

KING: Timing, right?

DILLER: Timing. Timing. Remember, he was a poor boy with a big brain, a lot of talent. And there ...

KING: With an attitude.

DILLER: ... attitude. Oh, what an attitude! Oh, ...

KING: Oh, that walk on stage ...

DILLER: Oh, that walk -- please. You know, Benny had a walk.

KING: Benny had a walk.

DILLER: Both the guys had a walk, ...

KING: The Groucho walk ...

DILLER: ... yeah. Groucho -- they all had that persona thing going.

And great guys. I loved them all.

KING: Did you ever do a sitcom?

DILLER: Yes. I had a sitcom called "The Pruitts of Southampton." And it was a darling thing. And it was written by the same guy that wrote "Mame."

It should have worked, but I was so stupid. I -- all these -- all these great opportunities came when I was so -- I didn't know anything.

KING: Have you always worked?

DILLER: Yes, always.

KING: In other words, you didn't go periods of unemployment.

DILLER: Never!

KING: You always booked somewhere.

DILLER: Always.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Phyllis Diller. We'll get some more calls in as well on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Hope you're having a good laugh. We'll be right back.



HOPE: Can you tell our viewers a little bit about your educational background and training. Where did you learn about the birds and the bees?

DILLER: Oh, what do you mean, learn? I taught them. A bird never gave a bee a hickey until I showed them how.


HOPE: And you don't have any formal training like Dr. Ruth.

DILLER: Dr. Ruth! Come on! She's nothing but a German strudel in pantyhose.

Every time I hear her, I think I'm watching reruns of "Hogan's Heroes."

What do you expect from someone who was Colonel Klink's speech teacher?




DILLER: So glad you're here, because I had a -- some bad things have been happening to me. A pervert called me. Five times. Collect.


DILLER: And that damn fool won't tell me where he lives.


DILLER: And my fan club broke up today. The guy died.


KING: Phyllis Diller. Port Saint Lucie, Florida -- hello.

CALLER: Hi, Phyllis. I admire you so much. That 10-year beauty plan, I'm doing that with Weight Watchers.

There's a lot of cursing today, and I want to know what you think about the state of comedy today?

DILLER: Oh, you mean the cursing?



DILLER: Oh, yes. I wouldn't do that. Only in heavy traffic.

But I like to keep it clean. In fact, I learned that from Bob Hope. He didn't allow any kind of...

KING: Who didn't?

DILLER: Bob Hope. You know, it was against the rules. Just nice, clean material and ...

KING: What do you think of Leno, and Letterman, and the late night scene?

DILLER: Well, I wish Letterman would not say nukuler (ph). A bright boy like that saying nukuler (ph).

KING: Have you been on his show?


KING: Enjoy it?

DILLER: I love him. I watch him every night.

KING: And Leno -- you like him better than Leno.

DILLER: Oh, oh -- Leno is the one I want.

KING: Oh, Leno is the one ...

DILLER: Because -- I'll tell you why. He does a monologue.

KING: ... oh, Letterman, you're not ...

DILLER: He does a monologue. I want -- I'm pregnant. Oh, see there I am with Leno.

KING: Yeah.

DILLER: I'm that 65-year-old woman, the oldest woman pregnant in the world.


KING: So you're a Leno lady.

DILLER: Well, because he does a monologue. He does a long monologue.

KING: Long.

DILLER: Well, you know, I'm a monologue person.

KING: Yeah. Forest City, Arkansas, hello.

CALLER: Hi, guys.

Phyllis, I saw you many years ago in a concert in Memphis, and you play the piano beautifully. I wondered if you still play.

DILLER: No, I don't, because -- I gave it up in 1980, for other things.

KING: You studied voice, too, right?

DILLER: Yes, I did.

KING: Attended a music conservatory, did a piano concert tour with symphonies in Hawaii, from Hawaii to Florida, played Beethoven and Bach.

You also play saxophone.

DILLER: Yes, I do. Not well, but I play. And I played with a guy who used to play with one of the big orchestras, in Reno at Harrah's.

Oh, it's fun, you know, to do things like that. I love playing the saxophone. It's strange, though, because you're facing the audience and your mouth is busy.

KING: Are there many female saxophone players?

DILLER: Very few.

KING: Very few.

DILLER: But it was ...

KING: And now you'd have difficulty with the breath, right, wouldn't you?

DILLER: I bet I would. I never thought of that. I haven't played it lately.

I love saxophone music.

KING: Buffalo, New York -- hello.

CALLER: Hi, Phyllis. It's awesome to be able to talk to you.

My question is, what are you going to do in the next 85 years?


DILLER: That's a very funny question. The same things I've been doing for the last 85 -- harrowing people.

KING: Do you contemplate any more plastic surgery?

DILLER: No. I'm not going to have any more.

KING: Done.

DILLER: Excepting -- one might thing I might do. I've already had the conference with the doc.


DILLER: See, I love eye makeup. Because without my eye makeup, I look like a turtle.

And if the eye -- if this little fat thing here comes down and gets messed up with the black stuff, then I'm going to have to have that, just that, tucked up. Fat -- that's nothing.

You see, but I won't do anything I don't have to do. I'm through.

KING: Can anything be done with hands?

DILLER: Well, why would you bother?

KING: Because they look older when you ...

DILLER: They're always wanting to do my hands.

KING: They can do hands?

DILLER: Oh, of course they do!

KING: But you won't do hands.

DILLER: I don't like fat hands.

KING: Oh, they'd have to make them fatter, right?

DILLER: Well, they put stuff in it.

See, I've always had this blue blood.


DILLER: These are library hands. I look like I run a library. Sh-h-h-h. Sh-h-h-h.

KING: Phyllis, you are an American treasure. There's no other way to put it.


KING: And you've retired now from stand-up, but you're going to keep painting. You sell your paintings? DILLER: Yes, I do.

KING: You show in galleries.

DILLER: Yes, I do.

KING: You should. And you also will continue to do television dates. If you're open to be in a sitcom, you could ...

DILLER: I could do that.

KING: You could guest on a television show, right?

DILLER: I do that. I do that. I guested on Drew Carey.

Oh, I play grandmothers!

KING: Caustic, funny grandmothers.

DILLER: Yeah. Well, one of them had Alzheimer's.

KING: You played an...


KING: ... you played it funny?

DILLER: On "Titus." And she had a nude scene. To hell with "Playboy." I had my nude scene.


KING: You're a delight.

DILLER: I love you.

KING: Thank you. I love you, too. The wonderful Phyllis Diller.

When we come back, we'll be telling you about what's coming up tomorrow night and nights ahead on LARRY KING LIVE.

But before we go, a sad note about the passing of a legendary acting talent. Rod Steiger died today of pneumonia and kidney failure. He was 77.

Steiger played all kinds of roles -- the more challenging, the better. Earned a Best Actor Academy Award for "In the Heat of the Night," delivering a powerful performance as a redneck police chief in a small, Southern town.

And who could forget "On the Waterfront," huh?

When I interviewed him for this show in 1997, we talked about what makes a great actor.


KING: It's been said that the great actor -- we were discussing, Al Pacino earlier, he's a classic example of it -- takes risks.


KING: That means he or she will, what? Go to the edge? Willing to fail?

STEIGER: Well, acting to me -- acting to me is exploring life in front of an audience. That takes a lot of guts to begin with. Because sometimes you're going to go so far off.

But what can I give you as an actor? I can only give you a memory. But a memory means I'm part of your thinking process, which means I'm part of your brain.

That ain't a bad gift.



KING: Aaron Brown will host "NEWSNIGHT." Naturally, he's going to look at the Bush speech.

Tomorrow night, we'll have another great program for you with -- but bouncing the ball up in the air among three different ideas. You'll hear about it all day tomorrow.




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