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Broadway Icon Carol Channing Dead at 97

Broadway Icon Carol Channing Dead at 97
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Carol Channing, the Broadway legend whose iconic performances in "Hello, Dolly!" made her a household name, has died. THR reports the legendary performer died just after midnight Tuesday at her Rancho Mirage, California, home. She was 97.

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With Jimmy Durante at a 1959 March of Dimes event

In a statement posted to Facebook, her publicist B. Harlan Boll wrote, "It is with extreme heartache, that I have to announce the passing of an original Industry Pioneer, Legend and Icon - Miss Carol Channing. 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. 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."

Channing, born in Seattle and raised in San Francisco, studied drama at Bennington College in Vermont ahead of her New York stage debut in "No for an Answer" (1941). Her breakthrough on Broadway came in 1948's "Lend an Ear," and in 1949 she landed her first iconic role: Lorelei Lee in the Jule Style and Anita Loos musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." With songs like "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" and "Little Girl from Little Rock," the inimitable Channing — a pop-eyed blonde with a trademark husky voice — made her mark in a big way, leading to many other stage and TV appearances.

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She achieved superstardom in Jerry Herman's "Hello, Dolly!" (1964), in which her performance as meddling matchmaker Dolly Levi charmed audiences the world over. She won the Tony and would revisit the role many times, most notably in successful Broadway revivals in 1978 and 1995.

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The usually effervescent performer said watching her greatest roles go to others on the big screen was like being an observer at her own funeral.

Channing received a special Tony Award and a 1995 Lifetime Achievement Tony along with her competitive Tony for "Hello, Dolly!" and was also honored with a Drama Critics Circle Lifetime Achievement Award and with induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

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Dazzling as Dolly in 1979

Channing's oversized talent was rarely captured effectively on the big screen — she was passed over for Marilyn Monroe when "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" was made in 1953 and for Barbra Streisand when "Hello, Dolly!" followed in 1969 — but was Oscar-nominated and won a Golden Globe Award as Muzzy in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (1967), a part that gave her her signature catchphrase, "Raspberries!"

Other film appearances include "The First Traveling Saleslady" (1956), "Skidoo" (1968), and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1978).

One of the most widely imitated personalities of the 20th century, Channing was a staple of TV game shows and variety shows, performed extensively with her lifelong friend George Burns, sang at the White House, was the first celebrity to perform at a Super Bowl halftime, and played the White Queen in a popular musical version of "Alice in Wonderland" televised in 1985. In 2002, Channing published a best-selling memoir entitled "Just Lucky I Guess: A Memoir of Sorts," in which she detailed previously undisclosed, unverified African American ancestry on her father's side, and shed light on her third marriage, a 40-year union to manager Charles Lowe that she claimed was barely consummated and abusive in nature.

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Channing at an autograph show in 2011 with (L-R) Terry Moore, Frances Fisher, Carla Laemmle, Morgan Fairchild & Louisa Moritz

Her final credit was voicing herself in a 2006 episode of "Family Guy," but she made occasional special appearances over the years, including at a triumphant Fire Island celebration in 2013 and at the 2016 event "Carol Channing's 95th Birthday! In Celebration of a Broadway Legend" in Palm Springs.

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Channing with Kaye Ballard at one of her last public appearances, the 27th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival in 2016

She was the subject of the well-received documentary "Carol Channing: Larger Than Life" in 2012.

In 2003, Channing married her fourth husband, high school sweetheart and lifelong admirer Harry Kullijian. They remained married until his death in 2011.

Channing is survived by her son with the late Theodore Naidish, Chan Lowe, a Pulitzer-nominated cartoonist.

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