Theater queens and anybody who appreciates one-of-a-kind raw talent is putting on their sequined red mourning veil today and sadly singing, “Goodbye, Dolly.” There’s a very good reason for why it’s overcast and gloomy everywhere today (if you looked out your window and see sunshine, it’s just a mirage, shut up), because the world has lost a burst of bedazzled sunshine with a dollop of platinum hair on top. Sometimes when a legend dies, I say, “I didn’t think this was possible,” but this time I really mean it, and scientists are pushing all of their projects to the side to study how is it possible that the original Queen of Broadway Carol Channing, who we all thought would live until the bulb in the sun went out, died. But sadly for the world, Carol Channing died early this morning of natural causes. She would have turned 98 on January 31.
Carol’s publicist B Harlan Boll announced the sad news on Facebook, saying that she died at 12:30am at her home in Rancho Mirage, CA.
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.
Carol Elaine Channing was born in Seattle, and one fact from her Wikipedia page that entered my brain for the first time is that her father was part African-American.
Carol first met her calling THE STAGE!!!! as a youngin’ while helping her mother deliver Christian Science Monitor issues to theaters. Carol was raised a Christian Scientist. She majored in drama at Bennington College, and moved to NYC to take on Broadway when she was 19. She made her Broadway debut in a three-day flop called No For An Answer before understudying for Eve Arden in the show Let’s Face It. She did a couple more shows before her unforgettable raspy golden yodel really made its way into the ears of Broadway audiences after she got the role of lovable gold digger Lorelei Lee in the original Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1947.
Carol starred in a few more Broadway shows, including The Vamp, before landing the role that would make her the star she deserved to be. Carol first played Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly! in 1964 in the first Broadway production. She played the role 5,000 times all over the country and world, including two more Broadway productions (1978 and 1995). Carol was, is, and forever will be the only Dolly we need.
Carol won a Tony for Hello, Dolly in 1964, beating Barbra Streisand (for Funny Girl) who played Dolly in the movie, as we all know. In between playing Dolly, Carol also played Lorelei Lee again on Broadway in 1974’s Lorelei, which ran for about 10 months. She got a Lifetime Achievement Tony in 1995 for being the priceless gift to Broadway that she was.
Beyond the stage, Carol was in the movie version of Thoroughly Modern Millie. That performance got her a Golden Globe and an Oscar nom. And she graced television with her silver lighting bolt presence many times. She played The White Queen in a TV movie of Alice in Wonderland in 1985, and this clip is like forty five hundred shots of Prozac-infused caffeine for my soul.
One of Carol’s last appearances on TV was in 2016 when she popped up on RuPaul’s Drag Race and thanked Bob The Drag Queen for impersonating her on the Snatch Game.
Carol was married four times including to her manager Charles Lowe. They were married for four decades, and their divorce got pretty messy. Carol had one son, Channing Carson, with her second husband Alexander Carson.
Carol didn’t only make a major mark on Broadway, the world, and us gays, she also made a major mark on CORN! I can’t look at or think of corn without saying “CORN!” in the voice of Carol Channing. There’s several different versions of this urban legend, but it basically goes that Carol was doing a performance of Hello, Dolly! somewhere when she had to make a Hello, Doody!. So she went into the bathroom. Minutes later, she could be heard saying, “Corn? I don’t remember eating corn!” One version of the story claims Carol was miked up so the audience heard her. Carol’s publicist denied that ever happened, but said that she loved the story.
Rest in peace, Carol Channing. You are now in heaven, where you’re making it a better and brighter place, and where you’ll never forget eating corn. Broadway better not just dim the lights in your honor, it better break all the damn lights.
Pic: Mark Kauffman/Getty