Carol Channing, star of Broadway's 'Hello Dolly!' dies at 97

Posted at 5:27 AM, Jan 15, 2019

Legendary Broadway star Carol Channing has died, her publicist, Harlan Boll, told CNN on Tuesday.

She was 97.

With her raspy voice and huge smile, Channing was best known for her Tony Award-winning role as Dolly Levi in the hit Broadway musical "Hello Dolly!"

The actress was born in Seattle to George Channing, a newspaper editor, and his wife, Adelaide.

She grew up in San Francisco, where her parents were devout members of the Christian Science religion and her father a popular lecturer for the church.

It was her religion that first led her to the theater. Channing and her mother would stand outside venues to distribute copies of The Christian Science Monitor.

Years later Channing also found out that her father had been harboring a secret.

His mother was listed as "colored" on her birth certificate, though his father was Nordic German.

Channing told CNN's Larry King in 2002 that she was proud of her mixed heritage.

"I was 16 years old and my mother told me," she said. "And you know, only the reaction on me was, 'Gee, I got the greatest genes in show business.' "

After a brief stint in college, Channing moved to New York, where she made her stage debut in "Never Take No for an Answer" and was an understudy in "Let's Face It."

But her role as the diamond-loving showgirl Lorelei Lee in the Broadway musical "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" in 1949 made her a star. Channing lost out on the role in the 1953 film adaptation to Marilyn Monroe.

Broadway continued to be her showcase, and she had another big hit in 1964 as Dolly Gallagher Levi in "Hello Dolly!"

It became the role that would help to define her career, and she reprised it in multiple productions over the decades.

"It was all special," Channing told Broadway World in 2014 of her favorite memories of the original production in honor of the 50th anniversary of the musical. "I suppose that sounds cliché, but it's true. Every bit of the production, from opening night to the last night of the tour."

She won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for the role of Muzzy Van Hossmere in the 1967 movie musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie." The film would forever have Channing identified with the now iconic line "Raspberries!"

Channing also became a darling on the small screen, appearing on TV quiz shows and other programs including "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In," "The Love Boat," "Touched by an Angel" and "Family Guy."

The actress was married four times: to writer Theodore Naidish, Canadian football player Alex Carson, her manager and publicist Charles Lowe, and childhood sweetheart Harry Kullijian.

Channing and Kullijian, a former city councilman in Modesto, California, reunited 70 years after they attended middle school together and married in 2003. He died of an aneurism in 2011.

The following year her life and career was celebrated in the documentary "Carol Channing: Larger Than Life."

Channing continued to work well into her 90s. She was hailed throughout her long-running career, including being inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981 and receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Tonys and the Drama Critics Circle in 1995 and 1996, respectively.

She is survived by her son, cartoonist Channing Carson.