Judy Tenuta, who rose to fame in the late 1980s and 1990s with her unique brand of kooky comedy, has died.
Tenuta’s manager, Roger Paul, confirmed to The New York Times that her cause of death was ovarian cancer. She was 72.
“She was a very funny, amazing performer,” he said in a statement shared with The Associated Press, adding how it was always a “happy time to be around her.”
Tenuta previously claimed her date of birth was November 7, 1965, though she was actually born in 1949. “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 concluded.
In a statement shared with PEOPLE, Paul reflected on Tenuta’s life and legacy.
“Much of the rambunctious, zestful character that she portrayed onstage stemmed from her lively personality,” Paul said. “Judy was an ardent performer. She was blessed with a uniquely keen wit, a propensity for outlandishness, and the ability to concoct wild worlds of fantasy and fun that gave you permission to explore your own imagination. I have had the joy and privilege of working with Judy well over 20 years, and she never ceased to surprise or amuse.”
“Judy was a rare gem, a true, walking cherry bomb. Depending on her agenda for the day, she could lift your spirits in a whirlwind of laughter or she could drive you bloody mad,” he continued. “And then somehow, when you needed it most, she could give you a call and make you feel enamored and understood. Perhaps that was Judy’s intention with her comedy all along; to alleviate the stress and the pain from our lives, and introduce us to her special hiding place where we can escape from it all.”
With her self-described “Love Goddess” persona, the comedian’s on-stage style was brash and loud, critics have said, and mixed observational and insult humor with audience participation. Often, her performance was accompanied by an accordion.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, she shocked the audience during her first comedy routine by appearing as the Virgin Mary.
Per the Times, Tenuta was an Illinois native, and one of nine children born to a strict Catholic family. Deadline also reported that she first honed her talent in Chicago after a workshop at The Second City, before moving to New York and finding success in stand-up.
She went on to appear in the 1987 HBO comedy special Women of the Night alongside Ellen DeGeneres, Rita Rudner and Paula Poundstone.
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE’s free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
Over the years, Tenuta was lauded for her unconventionally creative performances. She was the first recipient to win “Best Female Comedian” at the American Comedy Awards in 1988. She was also a two-time Grammy nominee thanks to her comedy albums Attention, Butt-Pirates and Lesbetarians and In Goddess We Trust.
Tenuta was said to have found a kindred soul in Weird Al Yankovic, with whom she collaborated over the years. She previously appeared on The Weird Al Show in 1997.
On Thursday, he posted a tribute to the performer on Twitter.
“Devastated to hear of the passing of my dear, dear friend, the lovely Miss Judy Tenuta,” he wrote. “I can’t believe she’s gone. Earth has truly lost a goddess.”
Some of Tenuta’s many other acting credits include Child of the ’70s, Material Girls, Johnny Bravo and White Hot.
She is survived by her life partner, Vern Pang; five brothers Daniel, John, Steven, Thomas and James and her sister, Barbara. She also had two nephews, four nieces and a grand-niece.
Leave a Reply