NPR
Obituaries

Bidding Farewell To 'Hello, Dolly!': Actress Carol Channing Dies At 97

223054757_1885765942.jpg

Channing's big break came when she landed the role of Lorelei Lee in the original Broadway production of <em>Gentlemen Prefer Blondes</em>. The musical comedy opened on Dec. 8, 1949.
AP

Channing's big break came when she landed the role of Lorelei Lee in the original Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The musical comedy opened on Dec. 8, 1949.

Carol Channing's trademark platinum blond hair framed a face that always seemed to be smiling, her wide-eyed innocent style belied a very savvy mind, and her voice was unmistakable. She died Tuesday morning, her publicist told Broadway World. She was 97 years old.

Born in Seattle in 1921, Channing's parents were Christian Scientists. She recalls that she got her first glimpse of backstage delivering copies of The Christian Science Monitor to theaters.

"It came over me that I was looking at the stage and backstage of a cathedral, a temple, a mosque, a mother church," Channing wrote in her memoir Just Lucky, I Guess. "I know I'm using adult words to describe a child's feelings, but I don't know how else to tell you this simple reaction of a child to a holy place."

Channing's near-religious connection to her audience gave her an astounding amount of energy, and she grew irritated with those who tried to diminish the importance of theater in people's lives.

"Live theater is something that can't possibly die because we're working on their metabolism," said Channing. "Some nights they're hyper, some nights they're slow, some nights they're sleepy, we have to nurse them; we have to find the way in to communicate with them. ... It's an electric thing for the performer; it's like plugging me in the wall."

Support comes from

Channing's first great role was also her first big break as Lorelei Lee in the 1949 original Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. But the role with which Channing will always be identified is Dolly.

It was this role in Hello, Dolly! that Channing loved most because it was life affirming in every sense. She had great respect for the show's creator, Thornton Wilder, and was deeply touched by the character's gradual ascent in this most optimistic of Broadway shows.

"It's easy to slide downhill, but who are the ones that just won't do it? Who are the diamonds in the rough that go upstream against everything?" said Channing. "That's what it was all about, that's what Thornton Wilder kept writing about."

It was the same lesson she shared with the audiences who watched her perform thousands of times in Hello, Dolly!: "Dolly Gallagher Levi stop talking to your dead husband and rejoin the human race!"

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.