Judy Tenuta has died at the age of 72. The comedy legend, best known as “The Love Goddess,” passed away after a battle with stage 4 ovarian cancer at her Studio City home, her rep Harlan Ball confirmed. She is survived by her partner Vern Panas well as several siblings — including brothers Daniel, John, Steven, Thomas and Jamesand her sister Barbara. Learn more about Judy and her accomplishments here.
She was known as ‘The Love Goddess’
During her first-ever stand-up performance, Judy drew controversy by dressing up as the Virgin Mary from the Bible. She added an accordion to her routine, which went on to become a signature element throughout her career — particularly after developing the character into the raspy voiced and brash “Love Goddess.” Some of her best costumes, along with her accordion, are on display at the Hollywood Museum at Hollywood & Highland. She notably got her start in comedy at Chicago’s iconic The Second City.
“The Love Goddess” also paved the way for her other campy characters with unique costumes, including “The Petite Flower,” “Queen of Candy-Pants,” “Fashion-Plate Saint,” “Princess of Panty Shields,” “Empress of Elvis Impersonators” and others.
After relocating to Los Angeles in the ’80s, Judy went onto front an HBO special dubbed Women of the Night with Ellen DeGeneres, Paula Poundstone and Rita Rudner. She also appeared in ad campaigns for brands like Diet Dr Pepper and MTV while maintaining presence in the stand-up world.
She was from Chicago
Judy was born into a Catholic Family as one of nine siblings in Oak Park, Illinois on Nov. 7, 1949 to parents Johanna and Caesar. Her mother and father named her for the late Judy Garland. She lived in Chicago most of her young life, and pursued a post secondary degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago, majoring in theater.
She was nominated for GRAMMYs
Judy had many accolades in her career, including several GRAMMY nominations in the Best Comedy Album category for Attention Butt-Pirates and Lesbetarians! and In Goddess We Trust.
She’s friends of Weird Al
Judy worked closely with her friend Weird Al — née Al Yankovic — and appeared as minor characters on both The Weird Al Show as well as popped up in his music videos and other shorts. Al took to social media to remember her after news of her death was confirmed.
Devastated to hear of the passing of my dear, dear friend, the lovely Miss Judy Tenuta. I can’t believe she’s gone. Earth has truly lost a goddess. pic.twitter.com/TiRuWTARiB
— Al Yankovic (@alyankovic) October 6, 2022
“Devastated to hear of the passing of my dear, dear friend, the lovely Miss Judy Tenuta,” he wrote via Twitter. “I can’t believe she’s gone. Earth has truly lost a goddess.”
She was an advocate for gay rights
Judy was known throughout her life for being a voice and advocate for gay rights. Outside of her activism, she regularly performed at gay clubs and bars in the Chicago area, as well as participated in gay pride festivals as grand marshal. She was also ordained to officiate same-sex marriages.
Judy will be buried at the Hollywood Forever cemetery. Her family asks for donations to be made to Make a Wish Foundation, St. Jude Hospital or City of Hope in lieu of flowers.
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