Tony Award and Golden Globe winner, and Academy Award nominee, Carol Channing — who was so unforgettable in the 1964 Broadway production of Hello Dolly! — has died of natural causes at the age of 97. As an actress, singer, dancer, and comedian, Carol enchanted audiences on stage and screen, along the way making the song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” from the 1949 show Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, her signature tune.
The announcement of Carol’s passing came from her longtime publicist Harlan Boll, who, in addition to providing the biography below, comments, “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 goodbye 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.”
Carol was born Jan. 31, 1921, in Seattle, WA, the daughter of a prominent newspaper editor, who was very active in the Christian Science movement. At just two weeks of age, her father’s work took the family to San Francisco, where Carol was raised, schooled, and eventually found work as a model. Through determination, hard work, and her family’s support (not to mention a mandatory IQ test for which she scored one of the highest recorded results), Carol was able to attend Bennington College in Vermont that had one of the few existing arts programs in the country, majoring in drama and dance.
A recipient of the 1995 Lifetime Achievement Tony Award, Ms. Channing has been a star of international acclaim since a Time magazine cover story hailed her performance as Lorelei Lee in Gentleman Prefer Blondes, writing: “Perhaps once in a decade a nova explodes above the Great White Way with enough brilliance to re-illumine the whole gaudy legend of show business.” Since her 1948 Broadway debut in Blitzstein’s No For An Answer, her Broadway appearances have included So Proudly We Hail, Let’s Face It, Lend An Ear, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Show Girl, and Pygmalion. In addition to receiving a special Tony Award in 1968, she won the Tony Award in 1964 for her legendary portrayal of Dolly Levi in Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!
Jacqueline Kennedy and her two children made their first public appearance after JFK’s death by seeing her perform in Hello, Dolly! and later visited her backstage. She has since played the role in over 5,000 performances, without missing a single performance. She then toured with her own revue, Carol Channing and Her Ten Stout Hearted Men and critically acclaimed tours of Jerry’s Girls and Legends, in which she co-starred with Mary Martin.
Her happiest film project was in the role of Muzzy in Thoroughly Modern Millie, which earned her an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award. Other films include Paid In Full, The First Traveling Saleslady (giving newcomer Clint Eastwood his first on-screen kiss), Skidoo, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Archie and Mehitabel, and Thumbelina.
Carol starred in a wide variety of TV specials over the years, was a performer on numerous awards shows, and made guest star appearances on episodic television, including The Love Boat, Magnum, P.I., The Nanny, Touched by an Angel, The Drew Carey Show, and Family Guy. She recorded 10 Gold Albums, including the original cast album of Hello Dolly!, and brought her music performances on the road, playing grand ballrooms and concert halls across the country. And as if this wasn’t enough, in 2003 she wrote her best-selling memoir Just Lucky I Guess, and began touring the one-woman show, The First Eighty Years Are the Hardest.
Her last public appearance was on her 95th birthday at the McCallum Theater to a record-breaking crowd of fans from all around the world, that sold out in only a couple hours and featured an all-star extravaganza to honor her. In late 2018, artist Khoi Nguyen used his PhD in mathematics to create a prolific painting of the actress, comedienne, and activist, that allowed more than 43,000 friends and fans (as well as herself) to participate by affixing their fingerprint onto the work, each linked to a personal video interview about Ms. Channing and her efforts to raise awareness with regard to the need for arts in education.
Carol is survived by her son, Channing Lowe, and close family member, Sylvia Long.