Judy Tenuta, Comedian and LGBTQ+ Ally, Dead at 72

Judy Tenuta
Judy Tenuta

Judy Tenuta, a beloved comedian and ally to the LGBTQ+ community, has died at age 72.

Tenuta died Thursday in Los Angeles, Variety and other outlets report. The cause was ovarian cancer.

Tenuta was born in Oak Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, and was named for Judy Garland. After graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago, she became popular in Chicago comedy clubs in the 1970s and ’80s. She had a quirky, over-the-top persona, and she used such monikers as “The Petite Flower,” “Fashion-Plate Saint,” “Queen of Candy-Pants,” “Princess of Panty Shields,” “Empress of Elvis Impersonators,” “The Love Goddess,” and “Aphrodite of the Accordion.” She wore outrageous costumes and often used an accordion in her act.

Later, she was variously based Los Angeles and New York City, and she toured nationally. She appeared in several television comedy specials, including Women of the Night with Ellen DeGeneres, Paula Poundstone, and Rita Rudner on HBO in 1987. She frequently performed with Weird Al Yankovic, who paid tribute to her on Twitter.

She was in numerous films, such as Butch Camp (1996), Desperation Boulevard (1998), Material Girls (2006), and Sister Mary (2011), the latter with Bruce Vilanch. She acted onstage in The Vagina Monologues and Menopause the Musical in both Los Angeles and Chicago. She was nominated for Grammys for her comedy albums Attention Butt-Pirates and Lesbetarians! and In Goddess We Trust. She wrote two books, Full Frontal Tenudity and The Power of Judyism. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she recorded a video titled Kicking Cancer's Ass.

Tenuta had many fans in the LGBTQ+ community and was a major supporter of LGBTQ+ equality. She performed in gay bars, served as grand marshal in Pride parades, and performed at fundraisers for queer organizations. She was ordained as a minister so she could officiate same-sex marriages.

Survivors include her life partner, Vern Pang, five brothers, and a sister.