Channing’s publicist, B. Harlan Boll, confirmed her death, saying Channing had suffered two strokes over the past year. In a statement shared with People, Boll said, “It is with extreme heartache, that I have to announce the passing of an original Industry Pioneer, Legend and Icon – Miss Carol Channing,” the statement said. “I admired her before I met her, and have loved her since the day she stepped… or fell rather… into my life. It is so very hard to see the final curtain lower on a woman who has been a daily part of my life for more than a third of it.”
Channing spent over seven decades on stage and screen, crafting a career that earned her a handful of Tonys and Grammys, as well as a Golden Globe. Her introduction to the theater, however, was a peculiar one: As a teenager, she would accompany her mother as they distributed Christian Science literature to actors backstage at the Curran Theater in San Francisco, prompting her to liken the stage with the church.
“I stood there and realized – I’ll never forget it because it came over me so strongly – that this is a temple,” Channing told the Austin Chronicle in 2005. “This is a cathedral. It’s a mosque. It’s a mother church. This is for people who have gotten a glimpse of creation and all they do is recreate it. I stood there and wanted to kiss the floorboards.”
Channing’s professional career began in the early Forties, but her big break didn’t come until the end of the decade when she starred as Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The show was a smash, and gave Channing one of her signature songs, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”
Channing cemented her status as a Broadway staple during the Fifties, but became a national star in 1964 with her turn as the match-maker Dolly Gallagher Levi in the hit, Hello, Dolly! Over the course of her career, Channing would reprise the role three more times – the last in the mid-Nineties when she was in her Seventies – and continue to perform songs from the show at cabaret acts and revues she helmed well into her Eighties and Nineties.
Following the success of Hello, Dolly!, Channing began to branch out more into film and television. Her biggest on-screen success came in 1967 when she earned an Oscar nod and a Golden Globe for her turn in Thoroughly Modern Millie. However, the stage always remained the crux of her career.
“Performing is the only excuse for my existence,” Channing said in 1995, during her last appearance on Broadway in the revival of Hello, Dolly! “What can be better than this?”