The Legendary Carol Channing Dies at 97
BroadwayWorld is deeply saddened to report the passing of the legendary Carol Channing. Channing died at 12:31am on Tuesday, January 15th, 2019, at home in Rancho Mirage, CA of natural causes.
B Harlan Boll, Channing's publicist, released the following statement:
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.
The touring company of Hello, Dolly! released the following statement:
"We are deeply saddened by the passing of the one and only Carol Channing. She was a 'Dolly' for the ages, and a true icon of the American Theater. Betty Buckley and the cast will dedicate tonight's performance in San Diego to her memory."
President & CEO of the American Theatre Wing Heather Hitchens stated:
"Carol Channing was one of the great icons of the American theater, and a beloved ambassador for this art form. She possessed a quality so unique and so special that she became her own archetype. Though her loss will be felt deeply by fans and professionals alike, her indomitable spirit lives on in the countless leading ladies who have been - and continue to be -- influenced by her greatness."
Carol was born Jan 31, 1921 in Seattle, Washington, 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," "Pygmalion," "The Millionairess," "The Vamp," "Four On A Garden," and "Wonderful Town." 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 5000 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.
Ms. Channing's 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 new comer Clint Eastwoodhis first on screen kiss), "Skidoo," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "Archie and Mehitabel" and "Thumbelina."
Ms. Channing TV specials, include "Broadway at the Hollywood Bowl," "Carol Channing's Los Angeles," "Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey on Broadway," "George Burns - His Wit and Wisdom" and to millions of children worldwide is best known as the White Queen in "Alice Through the Looking Glass." Other television credits include popular game shows as "What's My Line," "I've Got a Secret," "Password," and "Hollywood Squares," variety shows such as "The Dean Martin Show," "The Red Skelton Show," "The Milton Berle Show," "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," "The Carol Burnett Show," "The Muppet Show," as well as many Tony and Grammy broadcasts. A partial list of Carol's Episodic work consist of Playhouse 90's "Three Men on a Horse," "The Love Boat," "Magnum, P.I.," "The Nanny," "Touched by an Angel," "The Drew Carey Show" and "Family Guy."
As one of the most easily recognized and highly imitated voices in the world, Carol's unique sound has been established as characters and narrative in both TV series and documentaries like "JFK: The Day the Nation Cried," "The Adam's Family" (voice of Granny), "Thumbelina," "Free To Be You and Me," "Space Ghost," "Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers" and "The Brave Little Toaster Goes To Mars." Miss Channing also cut twenty children's albums of classic stories including "Winnie The Pooh" and "Madeline."
Ms. Channing has recorded ten gold Albums and including the original cast album of "Hello, Dolly!" released in 1964. Miss Channing has appeared in most every grand ballroom and concert hall in the country. Among her other acknowledgments is a Best Nightclub Act of the Year Award, Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year Award, the Oscar Hammerstein Award for lifetime achievement and the Julie HarrisLifetime Achievement Award from The Actors' Fund of America, but is most proud in the role of mother of Chan Lowe, who is a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist, who has the distinction of being a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
In 1998, Carol moved to Palm Springs/Rancho Mirage to be close to her dear cousin Richard "Dicky" Long and loved the community so much, that she called it home for the remainder of her life.
In 2003, the octogenarian released her best selling memoirs, "Just Lucky I Guess" and started touring world wide with her one woman show entitled "The First Eighty Years are the Hardest," after the very successful preview given to New York audiences that prompted the New York Times to say "Back Where She Belongs: Carol ChanningReminisces . . . The audience jumped to its feet more than once. We were watching a master performer" and Associated Press declared "The audience clearly was there to worship, and Channing did not disappoint." In 2004, Broadway's "first lady of musical comedy," received an honorary doctoral degree becoming Doctor Carol Channing from the California State University, Stanislaus Commencement (only the third Honorary Doctoral Degree given in CSU Stanislaus 45-year history).
In 2009, items representing Miss Channing's career were inducted into the Smithsonian Institute in D.C., along with eight other legendary ladies of stage and screen. Her original diamonds dress from the Broadway production of "Lorelei," worn while singing "Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend" and her "Hello Dolly!" gown (from the 95' tour), as well as her TONY Award for her portrayal of Dolly Gallagher Levy, are currently part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian Institutions American History Museum. In addition, her 1995 Lifetime Achievement Tony Award can be seen on exhibit at The Hollywood Museum and her star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame is located in front of the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Blvd.
In 2010, Carol returned to the Great White Way, performing at the New Amsterdam theatre on 42nd Street, with many returning "Dolly boys" from previous "Hello Dolly!" tours and received the "Gypsy Award" from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS." In January 2012, mutli-TONY winning director and producer, Dori Berinstein, released the critically acclaimed and award winning documentary entitled "Carol Channing: Larger Than Life," highlighting Carol's 70 plus year career. 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 Miss 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. Services have not yet been determined.
In lieu of flowers, a tribute gift/donation to the Carol Channing Theater at Lowell High School (1101 Eucalyptus Dr., San Francisco, California 94132 | (415) 759-3066) or the McCallum Theatre (73000 Fred Waring Dr, Palm Desert, CA 92260 https://www.mccallumtheatre.com/ ) in Carol's honor would be very much appreciated.
Many of Channing's friends released statements about her passing. Read them below:
Carol Channing was a comic genius and always gave her audience 110%! She was responsible for much of my career as an actor & director. I shall always be grateful to her for 'the best of times'! -- Lee Roy Reams
Our beloved Carol! One-of-a-kind, larger-than-life, the end of an era and our painful loss. - Loretta Swit
Carol Channing taught me everything I needed to know about scale and proportion. She was a tall girl with huge eyes, a mouth and a talent to match. No one was as well rehearsed or better prepared than she. In this world of endless copycats, we will miss a truly original personality. With Love, Bob Mackie
I feel so sad that the world will no longer feel the glow of the bright light that was Carol Channing. She was an enormous comedic talent and a person who exemplified the best of the biz across all media. She was the first star to guest on The Nanny and paved the way for dozens more, helping to make the show create itâ™ iconic New York, Broadway world. I had the privilege of seeing her in Lorelei when I was very young and impressionable. The way that woman played the stage, owned the space, worked the audience and gave so much was an inspiration for me towards which to aspire. She was a lovely woman and Im glad she was blessed with long life. Carol Channing was one of a kind and will long be remembered. --Fran Drescher
There was no one like her. There will only ever be one human being like Carol Channing. Pure joy in human form. - Lucie Arnaz
Behind her legendary talent and iconic daffy persona, Carol was staggeringly intelligent, razor sharp witty, and the most curious person Ive ever known. I will missed my friend -Sam Harris
Carol Channing was one of a kind, a true original, her talent was as big as her smile. - JoAnne Worley
It is a rare gift when an idol becomes a friend. Carol Channing was my friend. I will forever treasure her loving guidance. - Loni Anderson
She became my childhood role model, the moment I saw her in Thoroughly Modern Millie, swinging that bolo and getting shot out of a cannon. I was five and knew THIS was who I wanted to be like when I grew up. And then, I had the great good fortune to meet her and my childhood role model became my friend. As a person, as both a star and a human being, she was everything you could hope for and more. I loved her very much and my ambition is to achieve even a fraction of the incredible life she created. - Alison Arngrim
Several times reviewers have graciously referred to me as a "pint sized Carol Channing" in her signature roles as Lorelei or Dolly. WOW....what a compliment! I idolized her and was so very grateful to have her as my joyous friend. We always laughed about my being the only one to sing in her original keys.....LOW!! Speaking of....we were both married to men named LOWE....Great for me! Unfortunately lousy for her! A bright theatrical Klieg Light has gone out....The world is now a dimmer place. - Ruta Lee
Ive had the incredible pleasure of knowing Carol Channing for many years. Ive long admired her and her work and was honored to have worked and rehearsed with her and also celebrated with her. We shared the same hope that arts would return to the school curriculum. Did she have a fascinating and amazing life - yes! Was it long enough - not in my book. Carol, you will be sorely missed but your legacy will sparkle forever. - Kate Linder
Losing Carol really hit me. There has never been anything like her in all show business. I saw her on Broadway in 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 'when I was 16 years old. With all her talent she could stop the show with her eyes alone. The most spellbinding star to ever walk the hallowed stage. What an improvement to heaven- Julie Newmar
Carol Channing starred in the first broadway show I ever saw. It was called The Vamp. She was the most alive person I have ever seen and turned everything around her into magic. And that was in a flop. A really big flop. Whenever I mentioned it, She would throw fake diamonds at me. - Bruce Vilanch
I dare anyone to quote Carol Channing without automatically going into a very bad impersonation of her. Carol was legendary, top of the line and an enormous abundance of unique talent and was a fabulous person - She will be missed by everyone, but especially me. - Carole Cook
There was really only ONE Carol Channing. She was truly a 'legend' in every sense of the word. Having the opportunity to play opposite Carol's inimitable portrayal of Dolly Levi remains one of the highlights of my life. With each performance she gave me the priceless gift of a master class in comedy. Personally, she shared a lifetime of incredible stories, wise advice and warm friendship. I will never forget the uniquely talented, larger-than-life, force of nature that was Carol Channing. - Davis Gaines
Carol Channing was absolutely, positively one of a kind. She created a persona that was both larger than life and warmly relatable. Once seen, never forgotten. - Leonard Maltin
I have many special memories of her.... bright spots of light that dot my memory. She was beloved by so many, and deserved every bit of it. What a trooper.... what a brilliant artist. She lit up every stage she was ever on, and filled so many hearts with joy because of her generosity of spirit. Dolly will always be here inside our hearts. - Toni Tennille
Today, we reflect back on Channing's legendary career with some videos from her archives:
Carol Channing TV and Film Clips
The following are clips from Carol Channing's one woman show "The First Eighty Years are the Hardest:"
Carol Channing - Sings "One Of These Days" as Sophie Tucker
Carol Channing - Sophie Tucker
Carol Channing - Ethel Merman
Carol Channing - Cecilia Cission
Carol Channing - T. Bankhead
Carol Channing - The Audition
Take a look back at some photos of Channing from the archives below: