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Carol Channing, the Tony Winner Who Played Dolly Levi More Than 5,000 Times, Has Died

Channing was 97.

Carol Channing has died at the age of 97.
(© David Gordon)

Carol Channing, the distinctive-voiced Broadway legend who played the role of matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in the musical Hello, Dolly! more than 5,000 times, this morning died from natural causes. She was 97.

Carol Elaine Channing was born January 31, 1921, in Seattle to Adelaide and George Channing. They relocated to San Francisco when Channing was two weeks old. George Channing later became a practitioner and teacher of Christian Science. Carol graduated from San Francisco's Lowell High School in 1938. Her first experiences with theater came when she helped her mother distribute copies of the Christian Science Monitor backstage at various Bay Area theaters.

Channing's first New York stage job came in 1941, when she was cast in Marc Blitzstein's No for an Answer. She made her Broadway debut understudying Eve Arden in Let's Face It! at the Imperial Theatre. Less than a decade later, she made her first major mark on the theatrical community, playing Lorelei Lee and singing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in the musical Gentleman Prefer Blondes.

For her various stage roles, Channing received several Tony nominations (including 1955's The Vamp, 1961's Show Girl, and 1974's Lorelei) and won in 1964 for her now-legendary performance as Dolly Gallagher Levi in Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! Not only did Channing star in the original Broadway production of that musical, she also led the cast in two Broadway revivals (in 1978 and 1995) and toured with the show throughout the United States and internationally. Channing played Dolly over 5,000 times, though Barbra Streisand played Dolly in the film version.

On celluloid, Channing left an indelible mark as the eccentric widow Muzzy Van Hossmere in the 1967 film Thoroughly Modern Millie. She won a Golden Globe for her performance and also received an Academy Award nomination. Her distinctive voice made her a favorite to guest on game shows like What's My Line? and on television programs such as The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, The Nanny, and Family Guy. A documentary about her life, Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, was released in 2011.

Married four times, Channing is survived by her son Channing Carson — a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist who publishes under the name Chan Lowe — from her 42-year marriage to her publicist, Charles Lowe. She was predeceased in 2011 by her fourth husband, Harry Kullijian, a childhood sweetheart who rekindled their relationship after reading her favorable memories of him in her 2002 memoir, Just Lucky, I Guess.

The current Hello, Dolly! national tour, starring Betty Buckley, will dedicate tonight's performance in San Diego to Channing's memory.