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Broadway Star Carol Channing Has Died At 97

The Tony Award-winning theater legend's distinctive voice was a hallmark of her performances.

Posted on January 15, 2019, at 8:35 a.m. ET

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Carol Channing, who worked into her nineties in theater, film, and TV, died Tuesday at 97.

Channing died of natural causes in Rancho Mirage, California, and according to publicist B. Harlan Boll, the entertainer had suffered two strokes in the last year, the AP reported.

Channing's trademark was her distinctive, oft-parodied voice, which helped her create her most iconic role, Dolly Levi in the musical Hello, Dolly! She won a Tony Award for the original 1964 production and went on to reprise her performance throughout her career, including on national tours and in two more Broadway productions in 1978 and 1995.

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Hello, Dolly!

Channing was 19 when she made her theatrical debut in 1941's No for an Answer. She continued working regularly on the stage, leading to her breakthrough role as Lorelei Lee in the 1949 musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Her character's big number "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" became one of Channing's signature songs. As with Dolly, Channing was indelibly linked with the character, and played her again on Broadway in 1974's Lorelei, a reworked version of the musical.

Outside of theater, Channing acted in film and on television. Her best-known movie role was as Muzzy Van Hossmere in 1967's Thoroughly Modern Millie, for which she earned an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe. Those who grew up in the '80s may remember her fondly as the White Queen in the 1985 TV movie version of Alice in Wonderland, particularly her performance of the song "Jam Tomorrow, Jam Yesterday." Channing made guest appearances — mostly as herself — on numerous series, including The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, The Nanny, and even RuPaul's Drag Race.

Channing was honored with a few lifetime achievement awards: a Tony Award in 1995, a Drama Critics' Circle Award in 1996, and an Oscar Hammerstein Award in 2004. One of Channing's charitable passions was arts education in schools; in 2005, she and her fourth husband, Harry Kullijian, established the Dr. Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian Foundation to promote the arts in California schools. Channing and Kullijian were childhood sweethearts who reconnected in their eighties. They were married until his death in 2011.

Channing is survived by her son, Channing Carson aka Chan Lowe, who is a Pulitzer-nominated cartoonist.

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