Judy Tenuta, the ‘goddess of love’ who plays the accordion in standup comedy, dies at 72

Judy Tenuta, a comedian who rose to fame during the 1980s presenting her frenetic, outrageous comedy dressed in extravagant outfits, playing the accordion and anointing herself “The Goddess of Love,” died Thursday in Los Angeles. She was 72 years old.

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 female comedian to win “Best Female Comedian” at the American Comedy Awards in 1988, according to a biography at its official website. She was also nominated for two Emmy Awards for her comedy album, “Attention Butt-Pirates & Lesbetarians!” and “In Goddess We Trust.”

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

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

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

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

“Although Ms. Tenuta’s tirades have a spirited edge, they are delivered by a wacky made-up character wearing a tattered prom dress, speaking in stylized snarls and squeals, carrying an accordion, and greeting the audience: ‘Hello, you pigs! ‘” Mr. Holden wrote.

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In 1989, he appeared on HBO’s “One Night Stand” and also had a 1991 Showtime special called “Worship Me, Pigs.”

He often performed with fellow accordionist Weird Al Yankovic, including on the short-lived “Weird Al Show” in 1997.

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

Judy Tenuta was born on November 7, 1949, in Oak Park, Illinois, to Johanna and Caesar. Ms. Tenuta grew up in a large family with seven brothers and one sister in a strict Catholic home, according to The Chicago Tribune.

He is survived by his life partner, Vern Pang, several brothers, and a sister.

“I always felt like a goddess of love,” she told the newspaper in 1992. “I told my brothers, ‘Kiss my hands and kiss my feet,’ and they did. Of course I had to clean their rooms, fine!”

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

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

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