Always a 'Happy Time to Be Around Her'

'Love Goddess' comedian Judy Tenuta dies at 72 of ovarian cancer
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 7, 2022 9:55 AM CDT
'Love Goddess' Comedian Judy Tenuta Dead at 72
Comedian Judy Tenuta is seen at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles on Dec. 31, 2008.   (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

Judy Tenuta, a brash stand-up who cheekily styled herself as the "Love Goddess" and toured with George Carlin as she built her career in the 1980s golden age of comedy, died Thursday. She was 72. Tenuta died at home in Los Angeles, with her family around her, publicist Roger Neal told the AP. The cause of death was ovarian cancer. "She was a very funny, amazing performer," Neal said, and it was always a "happy time to be around her." Tenuta had claimed her birthdate as Nov. 7, 1965, but she was born in 1949, Neal said. "She was old school, so she would never tell her real age, but now that she's gone we can tell her real age," he added.

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 Carolines in New York City. "I can't believe she's gone," tweeted Weird Al Yankovic, who worked with Tenuta on his 1990s TV series and a 2006 music video. "Earth has truly lost a goddess."

Tenuta grew up in the Chicago suburb of Maywood and joined the Chicago comedy troupe Second City before starting her solo stand-up career. She gained national attention in 1987 with On Location: 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 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. (Read more obituary stories.)

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