LOS ANGELES (AP) — Judy Tenuta, a brash standup who cheekily styled herself as the “Goddess of Love” and toured with George Carlin as she built her career in the 1980s golden age of comedy, died Thursday. She was 65.
Tenuta died Thursday afternoon at home in Los Angeles, with her family around her, publicist Roger Neal told The Associated Press.
“She was a very funny, amazing performer,” Neal said, and it was always a “happy time to be around her.”
Her heart-shaped face, topped by bouffant hair with a flower accent, conveyed an impression of sweet innocence that was quickly shattered by her loud, gravelly delivery and acidic humor, expletives included. The accordion she made part of her act was “an instrument of love and submission,” as she basically called it.
She was among a generation of performers who drove the popularity of live comedy in clubs nationwide including the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, Laff Stop in Houston and Caroline’s in New York City. A typically male-dominated field found room for women, including Tenuta.
Tenuta gained national attention in 1987 with “Women of the Night,” an HBO special in which she starred with Ellen DeGeneres, Paula Poundstone, and Rita Rudner.
In 1988′s “American Comedy Awards” TV special, Tenuta was named best female comedy club performer opposite male winner Jerry Seinfeld. Other honorees that year for their club or screen work included Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler.
“I would trade it in a minute, if I could just be a wife and mother,” wisecracked the gold lame-wrapped, gum-chewing Tenuta, who accepted her award from Carlin.
Associated Press journalist Mallika Sen contributed to this report from New York.