Broadway legend Carol Channing dead at 97

Actress and singer Carol Channing died early Tuesday morning at the age of 97 at her home in Rancho Mirage, California. Her publicist confirmed she died of natural causes.

Whether you knew her as Dolly, Lorelei, Muzzy or just Carol, Channing was a one-of-a-kind talent who captivated any audience. Her razor-sharp wit, gravelly voice and big, bright smile became the trademarks of a performer who originated some of Broadway’s most iconic roles throughout the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. Channing continued to share her gifts on stage into her late 90s, enshrining her in a class of Broadway luminaries all her own. 

The daughter of prominent newspaper editor George Channing and his wife Adelaide, Carol was born January 31, 1921, in Seattle, Washington, but predominantly grew up in San Francisco. According to her 2002 memoir Just Lucky I Guess: A Memoir of Sorts, her father sent a wire to Detroit when she was born that read, “Carol came into the world singing.” 

Channing, who was raised in a devout Christian Scientist household, credits her mother for introducing her to theater on an outing to distribute Christian Science Monitor issues at entertainment venues. “I’ll never forget it, because it came over me so strongly,” Channing recalled the feeling of stepping into a theater for the first time. “This is a temple. This is a cathedral. It’s a mosque ... This is for people who have gotten a glimpse of creation and all they do is recreate it. I stood there and wanted to kiss the floorboards.”

37 PHOTOS
Carol Channing through the years
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Carol Channing through the years
Actress Carol Channing performing. (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Carol Channing (R) and Cyril Ritchard (L) ice skating during their appearance in TV show Xmas Tree. (Photo by Ralph Morse/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 3/16/1951-After snipping off her locks and combing them into a 'Dizzy Blonde' hairdo, Carole Channing's stock went up.
THE LUX SHOW STARRING ROSEMARY CLOONEY -- Episode 106 -- Pictured: (l-r) Host Rosemary Clooney, Carol Channing -- (Photo by: Herb Ball/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 17: Actress Carol Channing (left) is photographed with columnist Louella Parsons at a cocktail party on September 17, 1957, in Beverly Hills, CA. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 16: Carol Channing combs her hair prior to the Tony Awards ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria. (Photo by Bill Quinn/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Sparkling Cause. Actress Carol Channing makes a sparkling queen $2,500,000 worth -- after her 'coronation' yesterday. She will be Queen of tonight's Hearts and Diamond Ball at Plaza Hotel. The event benefits the Heart and Lung Foundation. Carol's headpiece is the famed $750,000 Westminster Tiara.
American singer and actress Carol Channing smiles during the shooting of her Emmy-winning television special, 'An Evening With Carol Channing,' August 29, 1965. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
American actress and singer Carol Channing gets contemplative in front of a produce market during the shooting of her Emmy-winning television special 'An Evening With Carol Channing,' August 22, 1965. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 14: ABC SPECIAL - 'Carol Channing Presents the Seven Deadly Sins' - 4/14/69, Carol Channing, (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 14: ABC SPECIAL - 'Carol Channing Presents the Seven Deadly Sins' - 4/14/69, Carol Channing, (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)
Carol Channing during Carol Channing Sighting in New York City - October 16, 1972 at La Cote Basque in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
CANADA - OCTOBER 02: Carol Channing at the Imperial room. A dizzying display of sensuality and silliness (Photo by Bob Olsen/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Actress Carol Channing who originally made her mark in the Broadway performace of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
American actress Carol Channing poses with Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, November 1979. Herman created the production 'Hello Dolly' for which Channing is best known. (Photo by Tim Boxer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY - DECEMBER 14: Actress Carol Channing attends the opening party for 'Peg' on December 14, 1983 at the Time Life Building in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Carol Channing, Mary Martin, and Jane Wyman during Thalian's Ball Honors Mary Martin at The Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Actress Carol Channing and Comedian George Burns attend the UJA-Federation of New York Annual Awards Gala on September 27, 1987 at The Pierre Hotel in New York City, New York. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 3: Actress Carol Channing attends United Negro College Fund Gala on December 3, 1987 at Chasen's Restaurant in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 25: Actress Carol Channing attends American Jewish Committee Awards Gala on October 25, 1987 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 9: Actress Carol Channing attends 50th Annual Golden Apple Awards on December 9, 1990 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY - NOVEMBER 10: Actress Carol Channing attends Juvenile Diabetes Foundation Benefit Gala on November 10, 1990 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY - JUNE 20: Actress Carol Channing and husband Charles Lowe attend Mirabella's Fifth Anniversary Party on June 20, 1994 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
P-330514004 5/20/98 New York City Actress Carol Channing At A Press Conference Where She Announced That She Had Filed For Divorce From Her Husband Of 41 Years, Charles Lowe. 77-Year-Old Channing Claimed That Lowe Beat Her, Had Squandered Her Money And Had That He Had Sex With Her Only Twice During Their Long Union. (Photo By Jeff Christensen/Getty Images)
Actress Carol Channing, Actor Anthony Quinn and wife Jolanda Addolori attend The Museum of the Moving Image Honors Barbara Walters on March 19, 1992 at Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, New York. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
CAROL CHANNING Leaving the Essex House Hotel for the premiere of NICHOLAS NICKLEBY at the Beekman Theatre, New York City. December 17, 2002 (Photo by Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images)
CENTURY CITY, CA - OCTOBER 26: Actress Carol Channing poses for a photograph prior to signing copies of her new book 'Just Lucky, I Guess' at Brentano's Book Shop on October 26, 2002 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Robert Mora/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 31: Beverly Hills Theatre Guild Spotlight Awards honoring Carol Channing in Beverly Hills, United States on January 31, 2005 - Carol Channing and husband Harry Kullijian (right) at the Beverly Hills Hotel. (Photo by Mike FANOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - NOVEMBER 15: Actress Carol Channing (F) and Actress Lily Tomlin attend the 2008 celebration of caring celebrity toast - Carol Channing on November 15, 2008 at the Universal Hilton and Tower Ballroom, in Universal City, California. (Photo by Dr. Billy Ingram/FilmMagic)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - NOVEMBER 15: Actress Carol Channing attends the 2008 celebration of caring celebrity toast - Carol Channing on November 15, 2008 at the Universal Hilton and Tower Ballroom, in Universal City, California. (Photo by Dr. Billy Ingram/FilmMagic)
Carol Channing performs and celebrates her 90th Birthday during the 2010 Broadway Cares Gypsy of the Year Competition at New Amsterdam Theatre on December 7, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
Carol Channing poses at the 2010 Broadway Cares Gypsy of the Year Competition at New Amsterdam Theatre on December 7, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
CULVER CITY, CA - OCTOBER 15: Carol Channing arrives at the 6th Annual 'A Fine Romance' to benefit the Motion Picture & Television Fund at Sony Studios on October 15, 2011 in Culver City, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)
Actress Carol Channing and husband Harry Kullijian at the Hollywood Chamber Of Commerce Foundation's 1st Annual Heroes Of Hollywood Luncheon Honoring Carol Channing at Taglyan Cultural Complex on June 3, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Beck Starr/FilmMagic)
PALM SPRINGS, CA - JANUARY 03: Actress Carol Channing arrives at the 26th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala Presented By Cartier at Palm Springs Convention Center on January 3, 2015 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
PALM SPRINGS, CA - JANUARY 03: Actress Carol Channing (C) arrives at the 26th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala Presented By Cartier at Palm Springs Convention Center on January 3, 2015 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
PALM SPRINGS, CA - JANUARY 07: Actress Carol Channing attends the World Premiere of 'Broadway Beyond the Golden Age' at the 27th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival on January 7, 2016 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for PSIFF)
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After attending the prestigious Bennington University for one year, Channing dropped out and moved to New York City, making her stage debut in “Never Take No for an Answer” in 1941. Her big break, however, didn’t come until 1949, when she was cast as the diamond-obsessed showgirl Lorelei Lee in the musical “Gentleman Prefer Blondes.” The role catapulted Channing to fame and secured her spot among Broadway royalty for her performance of the now classic song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” 

Although Marilyn Monroe took the reins from Channing in the musical’s film adaptation in 1953, the Broadway star continued to have a successful stage career with performances in “Wonderful Town” (1953) and “The Vamp” (1955). It wasn’t until 1964, however, when Channing struck gold again with perhaps her most famous role as Dolly Gallagher Levi, a turn of the century matchmaker, in the musical “Hello, Dolly!”

Channing famously beat out Barbra Streisand, who starred in “Funny Girl,” for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her starring turn, even though Streisand was later cast as Dolly in the film adaption. Channing reprised the role three times on Broadway and in the West End for more than 5,000 performances in the title role until her last run in 1995 at the Lunt-Fontanne. 

She would later go on to star in film and television roles, but the theater was always where Channing felt most at home. “Something comes over you in front of an audience and nothing hurts,” she said in an interview with The New York Times in 2013. “It’s very healing. Everybody has their safest place on earth and mine is center stage.”

Due to the immense critical and popular acclaim surrounding her performance in “Hello Dolly” ― the original cast album remained at No. 1 on the Billboard pop album chart for seven weeks ― Channing was cast as Muzzy Van Hossmere in the 1967 movie musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” starring Julie Andrews. Her performance earned her a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, as well as an Academy Award nomination. Muzzy, the “jazz baby” party girl, is best remembered for the now iconic line, “Raspberries,” which has become synonymous with Channing ever since. 

After two failed marriages to writer Theodore Naidish and Canadian football player Alex Carson with whom she had one son, Channing Carson, Channing married her manager and publicist Charles Lowe in 1956. Although their marriage lasted 42 years, it was not without its challenges ― Channing claimed that the two only slept together twice and that Lowe had mismanaged her finances during their divorce negotiations in 1998. Lowe, who refuted her allegations, died a year later, before the divorce was finalized. 

Channing’s 2002 memoir was the catalyst for her fourth marriage to childhood sweetheart Harry Kullijian. Kullijian was told of Channing’s fond memories of their time together and reconnected decades after they had first met. The two married in 2003 and lived happily until Kullijian’s death eight years later.

In her memoir, Channing also revealed a previously unknown African-American ancestry. Before she left for college in 1937, her mother told a 16-year-old Channing that her father’s birth certificate was labeled as “colored” because his mother was an African-American woman. Channing told Larry King in a 2002 interview that she only had one thing to say when she found out the news: “I got the greatest genes in show business.”

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Throughout her career, Channing has been beloved by the gay community, inspiring legions of drag queens to imitate her signature saucer-shaped eyes and red lips. Describing her relationship with the LGBT people as a “mutual love affair,” Channing told dot429, “The gay community is responsible for so much of my success, and I love them. It’s a mutual love affair, really. They make the better audiences too, because they laugh often and loudly.” 

Channing continued to be a powerful presence on Broadway up until the ’80s. In 1995, she was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the Tony Awards for her immeasurable contributions to the theater, delivering an acceptance speech so quintessentially Channing, in which her red lipstick paired perfectly with an AIDS ribbon. 

In her later life, Channing was never too far from the stage, performing in various one-off shows and cabarets. Her life and career inspired the 2011 documentary “Carol Channing: Larger Than Life,” which introduced modern-day audiences to the then 90-year-old icon. Age, however, has never been an impediment to Channing. “No matter how old you get, and I’ll be 90 in January, there is always something around the corner that you feel passionate about and need to accomplish or complete,she once said.

By all accounts, Channing happily embraced her final years, working with students at a local middle school and making the appearance on stage now and then. When asked by the Wall Street Journal in 2013 if there’s anything hasn’t gotten around to doing yet, she had the perfect response. 

“No, I did everything that I ever thought was marvelous.”

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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