West News Wire: Judy Tenuta, a brazen stand-up comedian who jestedly billed herself as the “Love Goddess” and toured with George Carlin during the 1980s peak of comedy, passed away on Thursday. She was 72.
According to publicist Roger Neal, Tenuta passed away on Thursday afternoon at home in Los Angeles with her family by her side. Ovarian cancer was the death’s cause.
It was always a “great time to be around her,” Neal remarked. “She was a very witty, amazing performer.”
Tenuta claimed to have been born on November 7, 1965, but according to Neal, she was actually born in 1949. She was a traditional woman who would never reveal her true age, but now that she is no longer with us, we can.
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 fondly 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.
“Devastated to hear of the passing of my dear, dear friend, the lovely Miss Judy Tenuta. I can’t believe she’s gone,” tweeted Weird Al Yankovic, who worked with her on his 1990s TV series and a 2006 music video. “Earth has truly lost a goddess.”
Michael McKean, of “Spinal Tap” fame, tweeted, “One of a kind. Damn.”
Tenuta gained national attention in 1987 with “On Location: Women of the Night,” a 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 lamé-wrapped, gum-chewing Tenuta, who accepted her award from Carlin.
She was a frequent guest on late-night talk shows and game shows and with radio shock jock Howard Stern. Her acting and voiceover credits were eclectic, including appearances on “The Weird Al Show” and “Space Ghost Coast to Coast.” She appeared onstage in “The Vagina Monologues” in Los Angeles and Chicago.
Tenuta was a two-time Grammy nominee, getting back-to-back nominations in 1995 and 1996 for best spoken word comedy album for “Attention Butt Pirates and Lesbetarians” and “In Goddess We Trust.”
She was a supporter of LGBTQ rights, took part in pride festivals and counted members of the queer community as enthusiastic fans. On her website, she said that as an ordained minister of Judyism she was “available for same sex marriages!”
Tenuta grew up in the Chicago suburb of Maywood, attending Catholic schools that included one she dubbed “St. Obnoxious and Bondage.” She said she was the “isolated, petite flower” Petite Flower becoming one of her stage nicknames in a Catholic family that included six brothers.