Judy Tenuta, Popular Stand-Up Comic Known as ‘Love Goddess,’ Dies at 72

Popular stand-up comic Judy Tenuta, known to her fans as “The Love Goddess” and “Aphrodite of the Accordion,” died of ovarian cancer on Thursday afternoon in Los Angeles. She was 72.

Known for her acerbic humor, expletive-laden jokes, raspy voice and accordion, she was among the performers who fueled the popularity of live comedy in clubs, including the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, Laff Stop in Houston and Caroline’s in New York City.

Tenuta co-starred with Bruce Vilanch in the indie “Sister Mary,” and had small roles in “Gibsonburg” and Hillary and Haley Duff’s “Material Girls.” Her TV work included appearances in “General Hospital,” “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide” and “Corey in the House.” In addition to playing minor characters on “The Weird Al Show,” she was a regular in Al Yankovic’s comedy shorts and music videos.

“Earth has truly lost a goddess,” Yankovic tweeted following news of her death.

On stage, she appeared in “The Vagina Monologues” and “Menopause the Musical” both in L.A. and Chicago, and her own stand-up specials on Showtime, HBO and Lifetime.

One of those HBO specials was 1987’s “Women of the Night,” alongside Ellen DeGeneres, Paula Poundstone and Rita Rudner, when Tenuta first gained nationwide attention.

By the mid-1980s, Tenuta had gained notice for a series of television ads for MTV and Diet Dr Pepper and moved to Los Angeles, but continued to perform on national tours, making visits to the Chicago circuit.

Tenuta was an outspoken advocate for gay rights and frequently performed at gay bars and clubs around Chicago, and appeared as a grand marshal for numerous gay pride festivals. She became ordained as a minister to officiate same-sex marriages.

Born in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, on Nov. 7, 1949, her interest in comedy began when she took a class with the Chicago improv group The Second City and shortly after began opening for other comedians in Chicago throughout the 1970s.

Known for her elaborate, campy and boundary-pushing costumes (complete with “egg bras” and “nippy cup necklaces”) and personas, Tenuta’s acts included the monikers “The Petite Flower,” “Fashion-Plate Saint,” “Queen of Candy-Pants,” “Princess of Panty Shields,” “Empress of Elvis Impersonators” and the “Buffer of Foreheads.”

Tenuta was the first female stand-up comic to be named best female comedian at the American Comedy Awards. She was a two-time Grammy nominee for best comedy album for “Attention Butt-Pirates and Lesbetarians!” and “In Goddess We Trust.” She was wrote the books “Full Frontal Tenudity” and “The Power of Judyism.”

Tenuta is survived by her life partner, Vern Pang, five brothers (Daniel, John, Steven, Thomas and James) and sister Barbara. Tenuta will be buried at Hollywood Forever. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Make a Wish Foundation, St Jude Hospital or City of Hope.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Tenuta was 65 at the time of her death. She was 72.

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