Comedian Judy Tenuta, who was known to fans as “The Love Goddess” and “Aphrodite of the Accordion,” died on Thursday in her home in Studio City, Calif. She was 72.
Named after Judy Garland, Tenuta attended the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she majored in theater. Her interest in comedy began when she took an improv comedy class with Chicago’s The Second City, shortly after which she began opening for other comedians throughout the 1970s.
After being urged by friends to incorporate into her routine an accordion — an instrument her mother, a fan of Lawrence Welk, encouraged her to learn — Tenuta began to develop her persona as the wisecracking “Love Goddess.”
Tenuta moved to New York City in the late 1980s to be a part of the HBO comedy special Women of the Night, with Ellen DeGeneres, Rita Rudner and Paula Poundstone (and hosted by Martin Short).
Tenuta would later headline her own stand-up specials, and was the first “Best Female Comedian” winner at the American Comedy Awards. She also was a two-time Grammy nominee for Best Comedy Album, for Attention Butt-Pirates and Lesbetarians! and In Goddess We Trust.
Tenuta’s other TV work included the role of an ex-showgirl turned wedding chaplain on General Hospital, a snobby judge on Corey in the House, and The Weird Al Show. She also did much voice work, including for Space Ghost Coast to Coast and as herself in Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist.
Tenuta is survived by her life partner Vern Pang, five brothers and a sister, two nephews, four nieces and a grand-niece. In lieu of flowers, Tenuta had requested that donations be made to Make a Wish Foundation, St. Jude Hospital or City of Hope.