Judy Tenuta, Accordion-Playing ‘Love Goddess’ of Standup Comedy, Dies at 72

Judy Tenuta, Accordion-Playing 'Love Goddess' of Standup Comedy, Dies at 72

Judy Tenuta, a standup comic who shot to fame during the 1980s, delivering her frenetic, off-kilter comedy while dressed in outlandish outfits, playing the accordion and anointing herself “The Love Goddess,” died on Thursday in Los Angeles. She was 72.

Her longtime manager, Roger Paul, said the cause was ovarian cancer.

Ms. Tenuta broke through at a time when the comedy industry was almost exclusively male and was the first woman standup comic to win “Best Female Comedian” at the American Comedy Awards in 1988, according to a biography on her official website. She was also nominated for two Emmys for her comedy albums, “Attention Butt-Pirates & Lesbetarians!” and “In Goddess We Trust.”

“Judy’s stand-up routine is appropriately described as outrageous, mind-blowing comedy,” according to a list of her credits on her official website. “She recently became an ordained minister & converts her audiences to her signature religion, ‘Judyism.’”

The comedian rose to national fame with a comedy special on HBO in 1987, “Women of the Night,” in which she starred alongside Ellen DeGeneres, Rita Rudner and Paula Poundstone.

Ms. Tenuta, who also called herself the “Aphrodite of the Accordion,” appeared on hundreds of talk shows like “The View,” “Late Night With David Letterman,” “Larry King Live,” “Entertainment Tonight,” and “Comics Unleashed.”

Stephen Holden, writing in The New York Times in February 1988, described her as one of the “fastest rising woman comics” and compared her to Joan Rivers and Roseanne Barr.

“While Ms. Tenuta’s tirades have a feisty edge, they are delivered by a kooky invented character who wears a tattered prom dress, speaks in stylized growls and shrieks, totes an accordion and greets the audience, ‘Hi, pigs,’” Mr. Holden wrote.

In 1989, she was featured in HBO’s “One Night Stand” and she also had a 1991 special with Showtime called “Worship Me, Pigs.”

She often performed with a fellow accordion player, Weird Al Yankovic, including on the short-lived “Weird Al Show” in 1997.

Ms. Tenuta voiced characters on several adult cartoons, including “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” “Duckman” and “Johnny Bravo.”

Judy Tenuta was born Nov. 7, 1949, in Oak Park, Ill., to Johanna and Caesar. Ms. Tenuta grew up in a large family with seven brothers and a sister in a strict Catholic household, according to The Chicago Tribune.

She is survived by her life partner, Vern Pang, several brothers and a sister.

“I always felt like a love goddess,” she told the newspaper in 1992. “I would say to my brothers, ‘Kiss my hands and kiss my feet,’ and they would do it. Course I had to clean their rooms-nice!”

She was often coy about revealing her age publicly, saying that she didn’t want to feel “restricted.”

“When you’re a goddess, you’re eternal,” Ms. Tenuta told The Tribune. “I don’t want women to feel restricted by age. As soon as somebody finds out you’re a chronological age, they put a label on you.”

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