Carol Channing, an indomitable Broadway legend, has died. Per the AP, her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed that Channing died of natural causes in Rancho Mirage, California early Tuesday morning. She was 97.
Channing was born January 13, 1921 in Seattle, but moved to San Francisco with her family when she was a child. She reportedly knew she wanted to be an entertainer from childhood; she eventually moved to New York, and found work in various revues, but made a name for herself as Lorelei Lee in the Broadway production of “Gentleman Prefer Blondes.” Lorelei is, of course, the role that Marilyn Monroe would later make famous in the film version of Anita Loos’s adaptation, but the six foot tall, platinum blonde Channing brought a different kind of energy to the role.
Please assess Channing’s performance around the 3:05 mark in the following video, where you’ll see that her joyful, almost comedic, rendition of “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” differs greatly from Marilyn’s breathy, whispering, sex kitten take.
Channing’s time in the role of Lorelei was instantly iconic. “Her Lorelei is a mixture of cynicism and stupidity that will keep New York in good spirits all winter,” Brooks Atkinson wrote in the New York Times’s 1949 review of the show. He continued to sing her praises, noting that Channing’s performance as the gold-digger from Little Rock was essentially career-defining.
Every part of it is alive and abundantly entertaining. And above it all towers the blonde thatch of Miss Channing, who is batting her big eyes, murdering the English language, and carrying the whole golden world along with her by sheer audacity. “Gentleman Prefer Blondes” was always funny. It is even funnier now that the lustrous carol Channing has taken such a strangle hold on the part.
What Channing is perhaps best known for, however, is her role as matchmaker Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!, a role that she played over 5,000 times. Her dedication to the part was legendary; according to the Washington Post, Channing played the role through every possible physical ailment or setback, including an eye patch and a cast. Barbra Streisand may have won the role in the movie adaptation, but Channing’s Dolly is the real deal.
Channing is survived by her son, Channing Carson. Let’s remember her distinctive style and intonation that defined Broadway for decades by revisiting Pandora Boxx’s spot-on Channing impersonation in Season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race.