Actress Carol Channing died of natural causes early Tuesday morning at her home in Rancho Mirage after a legendary Broadway and television career spanning decades. She was 97.
Publicist B. Harlan Boll said Channing died of natural causes at 12:31 a.m. She had suffered two strokes in the past year.
“It is with extreme heartache, that I have to announce the passing of an original industry pioneer, legend and icon — Miss Carol Channing,” Boll said. “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.”
Channing may have been best known for starring in more than 5,000 performance of “Hello Dolly!” — both on Broadway and elsewhere. She got her start in the 1949 Broadway play “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
A devout Christian Scientist, Channing prided herself on never needing an understudy to cover any of her thousands of performances — except once, when food poisoning kept her from doing Dolly!’s Act II in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She successfully battled ovarian cancer in the 1970s bit did not talk about it for years.
Channing, an only child, was born in Seattle Jan. 31, 19-21. Her father, newspaper editor George Channing, relocated the family to San Francisco for his work. Channing joined the high school debating team and later said her interest in theater developed from her mother Adelaide taking her backstage to help distribute Christian Science literature to actors. As a result, she said, she came to equate the theater with church.
In her 2002 memoir Just Lucky I Guess, Channing wrote that when she was 16 her mother confided that George Channing’s mother was African American. She later reported that her mother was Jewish.
After dropping out of college in Vermont, Channing, then modeling as well as acting, visited booking offices in New York and Los Angeles, but largely to no avail.
That changed forever when author Anita Loos saw her in the revue “Lend An Ear” and suggested Channing be cast as the gold-digging 1920s heroine Lorelei Lee in the musical adaptation of Loos’ novel, Gentleman Prefer Blondes. The show opened in 1949. It gave Channing a lifelong theme song: “Diamonds Are a Girl*s Best Friend.’
But it was as the meddling 1890s matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi that greatly raised Channing’s entertainment profile. The show, based on Thorton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, opened Jan. 16, 1964.
Channing was nominated for an Academy Award in 1968 for Best Supporting Actress in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Feb. 8, 1960. The star is located at 6233 Hollywood Blvd.
Channing received a Tony Awards Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 for her work with the AIDS and Actors’ Fund.
Channing was married four times. She retired to California with her fourth husband, childhood sweetheart Harry Kullijian, whom Channing wed in 2003, when she was 82. They created a foundation to promote the teaching of the arts in California schools.
Kullijian died in 2011. Channing is survived by a son from her second marriage to football player Alexander Carson.
Funeral plans were not immediately announced.