Carol Channing, who won over audiences with a giddy, guileless charm in trademark roles in Broadway's "Hello Dolly" and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," died in her California home on Tuesday at the age of 97, according to her publicist.
Channing died of natural causes in Rancho Mirage after having suffered multiple strokes last year, publicist Harlan Boll said.
In a career that spanned seven decades, the saucer-eyed, raspy-voiced musical-comedy star never shook her associations with matchmaker Dolly Levi from the 1964 Broadway musical "Hello Dolly!" or gold digger Lorelei Lee in Anita Loos's "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."
Still, unlike many stars who dislike being linked strongly to the characters they have played, Channing was pleased to be identified with Lorelei, as well as Dolly, a role that won her a Tony Award.
"Audiences expect and demand I sing these songs," she once told a reporter of her signature tunes, "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" and "Hello Dolly." "I'm lucky to be so closely associated with both 'Diamonds' and 'Dolly.' ... I'm luckier than most - I have two identity songs."
Channing strengthened her connection to the roles by playing each for years on Broadway and in touring companies, taking the stage as Dolly more than 3,000 times. As recently as 1996, at age 75, she returned to Broadway following a national and world tour of "Dolly."
Channing was born in Seattle on Jan. 31, 1921, and got her first taste of the theatrical life as a small child at her father's public speaking engagements.
After a brief time at Bennington College, Channing had small parts in "No, No, Nanette" and a Broadway failure called "I'm Simply Fraught About You," and also did a small revue.
She worked at resorts in the Catskill Mountains and at Macy's department store in New York City before landing the role of the fortune-hunting Lorelei Lee in the 1949 musical "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." She was an unlikely choice for the role.
"Everybody was saying, 'She's not 5-foot-2, eyes of blue. She's over 6 feet tall and has muddy brown eyes,'" Channing said. "But Anita (Loos) stuck to it."
In 1964, Channing found a role the equal of Lorelei Lee in Jerry Herman's "Hello Dolly," which became a Broadway classic.
Channing saw both of her signature stage roles go to younger Hollywood actresses when film versions of the plays were made. Marilyn Monroe played Lorelei Lee and Barbara Streisand had the title role in the 1969 film "Hello Dolly," a colossal flop often blamed for ending the classic era of Hollywood musicals.
Channing won an Emmy and several nominations for television variety specials but her film career was sporadic at best, although she received an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe for her part in the Julie Andrews musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie" in 1967.
In 1968, she was given a Tony special award and in 1995, accepted a Tony for lifetime achievement.
Channing, in 1964, sang a rewritten version of "Hello Dolly" titled "Hello Lyndon" that President Lyndon Johnson played at campaign stops. Channing and the Johnson family then became close friends.
She was still taking the stage in her 90s with a 2014 show to talk about her career. (Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Bill Trott and Bernadette Baum)