Judy Tenuta, a brash standup comic who cheekily styled herself as the “Goddess of Love” and toured with George Carlin as she built her career in the 1980s’ golden age of comedy, died Thursday. She was 65. Tenuta died Thursday afternoon at home in Los Angeles, with her family around her, publicist Roger Neal told the Associated Press. “She was a very funny, amazing performer,” Neal said, and it was always a “happy time to be around her.” Her heart-shaped face, topped by bouffant hair with a flower accent, conveyed an impression of sweet innocence that was quickly shattered by her loud, gravelly delivery and acidic humor, expletives included. The accordion she made part of her act was “an instrument of love and submission,” as she fondly called it.
She was among a generation of performers who drove the popularity of live comedy in clubs nationwide, including the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, the Laff Stop in Houston and Caroline’s in New York City. A typically male-dominated field found room for women, including Tenuta. Tenuta gained national attention in 1987 with “Women of the Night,” a HBO special in which she starred with Ellen DeGeneres, Paula Poundstone, and Rita Rudner. In 1988′s “American Comedy Awards” TV special, Tenuta was named best female comedy club performer opposite male winner Jerry Seinfeld. Other honorees that year for their club or screen work included Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler. “I would trade it in a minute, if I could just be a wife and mother,” wisecracked the gold lamé-wrapped, gum-chewing Tenuta, who accepted her award from Carlin.
Early Life: One of nine siblings, Tenuta was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on November 7, 1949, into a Catholic family to a Polish mother, Joann, and an Italian father, Caesar. She grew up in a staunchly Irish-Catholic neighborhood, and attended the University of Illinois at Chicago where she majored in theatre. Her interest in comedy began when she took an improv comedy class with the Chicago improv group The Second City and shortly after she started opening for other comedians in Chicago
Tenuta began her comedy career performing openers and small time shows on the Chicago comedy circuit in the late 1970s.During her first ever performance, Tenuta shocked audiences by dressing up as the Virgin Mary, and after being encouraged by her friends to incorporate an accordion into her routine, she began to develop the character into her iconic persona as the wisecracking “Love Goddess”. After building a fiery reputation as one of the “hottest young comics around,” Tenuta left Chicago in the late 1980s and moved to New York City to host an HBO Comedy Special with Ellen DeGeneres, Rita Rudner, and Paula Poundstone. By the mid 1980s, Tenuta uprooted again, moving to Los Angeles, where she published her book Full Frontal Tenudity about life in Hollywood. During her time in Los Angeles, Tenuta harbored a fiercely independent attitude, openly rejecting Hollywood beauty standards and celebrity life. She continued to perform on national tours for years afterwards, making special visits to the Chicago circuit.