Judy Tenuta, known as ‘Aphrodite of the Accordion,’ died at 72. Judy Tenuta, the wonderfully astringent comic known as “The Love Goddess” and “Aphrodite of the Accordion,” died Thursday, according to her publicist.
Tenuta was suffering from stage 4 ovarian cancer. She was 72 years old.
She was first misreported as 65 by several outlets, with publicist Roger Neal telling the Associated Press that this was due to Tenuta’s “old school” style. “She would never divulge her true age,” he added, “but now that she’s gone, we can.”
Tenuta carved out a place for herself as an acerbic, gravel-voiced comedian, never too far from her trademark accordion, a musical instrument she wielded as a near-weapon of mass destruction, as a tourmate of George Carlin’s and frequent collaborator of fellow accordionist “Weird Al” Yankovic’s—and often the only woman in the room.
RIP judy tenuta the greatest the legend the blueprint 🌸😭💔 pic.twitter.com/266cEZJlz8
— sandy (@sandyhonig) October 7, 2022
Tenuta was one of nine children in her Catholic family, born in 1949 (not 1965, as she would have people think). Judy, named after Judy Garland, had an early interest in humor, attending improv training with the legendary Second City company and later joining their ensemble. She majored in drama at the University of Illinois at Chicago, becoming the first member of her family to complete college.
Tenuta relocated to New York City in the 1980s to pursue a solo standup career, and in 1987 she featured in Women Of The Night, an HBO comedy special alongside Ellen DeGeneres and Paula Poundstone. It was one of several she would bless with her presence over the years, including numerous on Showtime and Lifetime.
Her collection of campy characters was developed to include “The Petite Flower,” “Empress of Elvis Impersonators,” and the “Buffer of Foreheads” as she perfected her performance at clubs around the country. Tenuta was the first female comedian to be nominated best female comedian at the American Comedy Awards, and she was a two-time Grammy contender for the best comedy album.
Tenuta was a staunch supporter of LGBT rights throughout her career, frequently marching in or marshaling pride parades. On her website, she claimed to be an ordained minister of Judyism, a church she established, and that she was “ready for same-sex marriages!”
Tenuta achieved notoriety for her performances in The Weird Al Show, Space Ghost Coast To Coast, and Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, in addition to a handful of wickedly eccentric television commercials for MTV and Diet Dr Pepper in the mid-80s. Her film credits include appearances in 1996’s Butch Camp and 1998’s Desperation Boulevard.
She has also performed in productions such as The Vagina Monologues and Menopause The Musical in Los Angeles and Chicago.
Tenuta’s life companion Vern Pang, six siblings and a smattering of nieces and nephews survive her. She will be laid to rest at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
“I am heartbroken to learn of the demise of my beloved, dear friend, the gorgeous Miss Judy Tenuta,” Yankovic wrote on Thursday. “I can hardly believe she’s gone. “The world has truly lost a goddess.”