American Greed

Remembering Phyllis Diller: Stacy Keach

The mere mention of her name makes me smile.

Headshot portrait of American comedian Phyllis Diller posing wide-eyed and openmouthed in an outfit with a sequined court jester's collar, circa 1984.
Hulton Archive | Getty Images
Headshot portrait of American comedian Phyllis Diller posing wide-eyed and openmouthed in an outfit with a sequined court jester's collar, circa 1984.

She made us laugh the kind of laughter that was healing. She made us forget our troubles. She gave us hope and love and inspiration. There was nobody like her; she was one of a kind.

A true renaissance woman, Phyllis Diller was not simply a brilliant comedian, she was also an accomplished pianist and painter. And she rose to prominence at a time when female comics were not as prevalent as their male counterparts. She was a revolutionary, a trail-blazer for women. She was one of the few who could ‘play with the guys.’ (Related: Comedian Phyllis Diller Dies at Age 95.)

Her relationship with Bob Hope is legendary, but she was also a welcome presence at any number of celebrity roasts for the likes of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, and Johnny Carson.

Phyllis Diller/Bill's Robbery
Phyllis Diller/Bill's Robbery   

I had the great pleasure and privilege of working with her some years ago, on the Fox sitcom, Titus, where she played my Mom. She was 84 at the time, and you wouldn’t have known it. She had the energy of a woman half her age, and her ability to make people laugh was fully intact.

If I close my eyes, the sound of her infectious trademark guffaw still rings pleasantly in my ears. In recent years, I was shocked and saddened to learn she was the victim of a theft that was profiled on my CNBC show, "American Greed."

For me, it was as if a member of my family had been violated. “Mom’s been robbed!” is what I was feeling, and the anger in my voice was obvious.

Phyllis Diller/Bill's Robbery, Part 2
Phyllis Diller/Bill's Robbery, Part 2   

Ms. Diller was a sweet and wonderful woman, extremely generous and kind, and she didn’t deserve such shabby treatment from a greedy, two-bit jewel thief, even though she managed to take it in stride with her glorious sense of humor prevailing.

Since the time we worked together, we managed to exchange notes and Christmas cards, and one year I was happily surprised to receive a very special gift — a beautiful little painting of a vase of flowers, which proudly adorns my office wall. I shall always cherish it, and I shall always cherish her memory. (Related: Phyllis Diller's Laugher Curve.)

Our thoughts and prayers are with her family. Thank you, Phyllis, for giving us so much love and laughter.

Editor’s Note: Stacy Keach is the voice of CNBC’s “American Greed” and “American Greed: The Fugitives.” Keach is an award-winning actor in theatre, film and television, who has been awarded two Golden Globes for Best Actor. He recently co-starred in Universal Picture’s new feature film “The Bourne Legacy.”


A daily email for dreamers, doers and game changers.

Please enter a valid email address
Get this delivered to your inbox, and more info about our products and services. Privacy Policy.