Carol Channing, Original Star of Broadway’s ‘Hello, Dolly,’ Dies at 97

The larger-than-life actress also received an Oscar nomination for “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

carol channing
Photo: Allen Warren

Carol Channing, who originated the role of Dolly Levi in “Hello Dolly!” and Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blonds” on Broadway, has died at age 97.

The Oscar-nominated actress died early Tuesday morning at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., just weeks before what would have been her 98th birthday, her publicist B. Harlan Boll told TheWrap.

Channing came to national prominence as the star of the Broadway musical “Hello, Dolly!” in 1964. Her performance as matchmaker Dolly Levi won her the first of three Tony Awards (including one for lifetime achievement) for Best Actress in a Musical.

She appeared in two revivals of “Hello, Dolly!,” performing the role more than 5,000 times, missing only one show due to food poisoning.

Channing is also known for her role of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” The musical, which premiered in 1973, broke all box office records after six days of performances, selling out within 24 hours.

Her career extended well beyond The Great White Way, appearing in a number of films, including “The First Traveling Sales Lady” (1956) alongside Ginger Rogers.

She also received an Oscar nomination, as well as a Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actress, for her performance in the 1967 big-screen musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie” opposite Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore.

Channing was born on January 31, 1921, in Seattle. She attended Bennington College in Vermont from 1938 to 1941.

In 1966, Channing she got a call from Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz to headline in her own program, “The Carol Channing Show,” where she starred as Carol Hunnicut, a small-town girl trying to make it in New York City show business. But, the show never got get picked up.

For over 40 years, “The Carol Channing Show” was unavailable for viewing until a few years ago when the program was donated to the Paley Center for Media.

Channing was married four times. On May 10, 2003, she married her junior high school sweetheart, Harry Kullijian, who reunited with her after she mentioned him fondly in her memoir. Kullijan died on December 26, 2011, on the eve of his 92nd birthday.