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Legendary Broadway actress Carol Channing dies at 97

The icon whose unusual voice put a special stamp on songs like "Hello, Dolly" and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" was 97.
/ Source: TODAY

Farewell, Dolly.

Iconic Broadway singer and actress Carol Channing, whose rich, unusual voice put a unique stamp on songs like "Hello, Dolly!" and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," died early on Tuesday, January 15 at her home in Rancho Mirage, California, of natural causes, her publicist confirmed to NBC News.

Channing was 97.

Publicist B. Harlan Boll released a statement to that read, "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."

He continued, "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 Channing
Channing in her "Thoroughly Modern Millie" look.Alamy Stock Photo

Born in Seattle, Washington on Jan. 31, 1921, Channing was raised in a Christian Scientist household and graduated from an arts program from Bennington College in Vermont. She made her first Broadway appearance in 1941, but it was her indelible performance as Lorelei Lee in 1949's "Gentlemen Perfer Blondes," in which she sang "Diamonds," that truly put her on the map.

Her other legendary role was that of Dolly Levi, which she originated on Broadway in 1965, then returned to in 1978 and 1995 revivals. She earned three Tony Awards during her career: One for "Dolly," a special award in 1968 and a lifetime achievement award in 1995.

Carol Channing
Channing as Dolly Levi in one of her iconic performances.Shutterstock

Broadway wasn't her only home; Channing appeared in films including "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (1967), which earned her an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe for best supporting actress. She was also a regular guest on variety TV shows like "The Andy Williams Show" and was the first celebrity to perform at a Super Bowl halftime, in 1970. Over the years she recorded ten gold albums, including the 1964 original cast album of "Hello, Dolly!"

Celebrities from stage and screen immediately began sending out condolences on social media:

Channing was married four times; her fourth husband was her junior high school sweetheart Harry Kullijian. They were married from 2003-11, when he died on the eve of his 92nd birthday. She had one child, son Channing, with football player Alexander Carson.

As she once noted, "Laughter is much more important than applause. Applause is almost a duty. Laughter is a reward."