- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2000

LOS ANGELES A year after it stopped, not once but three times, Phyllis Diller's heart is beating with the help of a pacemaker planted in her chest.

"I died three times. The heart actually stopped," Miss Diller says in an interview. "I was in intensive care, and it stopped and stopped and stopped. The nurse had to give me mouth-to-mouth. I'm OK now. I'm flaming, raging. I had that laser eye surgery, and I have a new hip. I'm the bionic woman."

Did she ever worry that she might die?

"I can't now. I have this … pacemaker," she replies.

The comic with the outrageous laugh doesn't intend to retire just because she's approaching 83 and has faced down death. Her five-day appearance last week at the Stardust Resort and Casino in Las Vegas celebrated Miss Diller's 45 years in show business.

"I'm kicking up my heels. I'm back. I'm working my tail off," says Miss Diller, who punctuates interviews with her trademark cackle: "Aack. Aack. Aack. Aack."

Comedy has changed since Miss Diller began working in nightspots nearly a half-century ago. In those days, she talked about marriage, the kids, the dog and domestic life.

Female comics now seem to focus on vulgarity.

"I don't like that. They get too clinical. If it's slimy, I can't take it," she says. "The ones I admire are clean, like Rita Rudner, and some of the male comics like Tim Allen and Jerry Seinfeld. Those are ones that will end up with their own shows."

Recently, comedian Jerry Lewis criticized female comics, saying the only ones he likes are Miss Diller, Whoopi Goldberg and Elayne Boosler.

"What he said was female comedians were baby-making machines," Miss Diller says. "He's not an easy person, you know. He's always on the edge. That was very nice, and I appreciated it, but there are some very funny ladies out there."

Why doesn't Miss Diller just sit back and relax?

"Oh, I can't stand it. How awful that would be. It would be like looking at an old piece of machinery just sitting there. I love being onstage. To hear those laughs. By now, with my material, well, I really know what I'm doing. And I've got a built-in audience. I walk out there, and they know who I am and what I'm doing. I'm the hairless wonder.

"Aack. Aack. Aack. Aack."

She passed the California driver's test recently but it wasn't easy.

"I had a terrible time getting my license. They really look you over after you turn 80, you know. When I couldn't see the eye chart, that bothered them," she laughs. Laser eye surgery "where they put in a lens" cured that.

The 5-foot-2-inch comic was a late bloomer in show business.

When she was 37, her husband encouraged her to work up a nightclub act. She opened at the Purple Onion in San Francisco on March 7, 1955, with an act that lampooned celebrities and life in general.

She was an instant hit.

It was quite a switch for Miss Diller, who was a housewife and the mother of five children.

Her gig at the San Francisco nightspot stretched from two weeks to 89.

Then she went on a national tour.

She began showing up on TV variety and chat shows. She hosted her own comedy specials. She has made guest appearances on "Blossom," "Boy Meets World" and other shows.

"I love television. It's not my fault if the tubes blow out when I laugh," she says, followed by that hilarious "Aack. Aack. Aack. Aack."

She had a role in the 1961 film "Splendor in the Grass," starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty, and "Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number" with Bob Hope in 1966.

Miss Diller is a concert pianist, author and artist.

She also collect cars. Her collection includes a 1967 Checker custom station wagon, a 1927 Mercedes Excaliber Phaeton, a 1959 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud and a 1971 Mercedes-Benz.

"The Excaliber is customized with gangster headlamps, and the horn plays [the movie theme] 'The Bridge on the River Kwai.'

"Aack. Aack. Aack. Aack."

She lives in an English-style mansion on Rockingham Avenue in Brentwood, very close to where O.J. Simpson lived.

"We call it murder alley," she chuckles.

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