Judy Tenuta, sassy 'Love Goddess’ of standup comedy dies at age 72

Judy Tenuta, sassy 'Love Goddess’ of standup comedy dies at age 72
Judy Tenuta was named best female comedy club performer opposite male winner Jerry Seinfeld at the American Comedy Awards in 1988 (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

STUDIO CITY, CALIFORNIA: Famous comedienne Judy Tenuta died on Thursday, October 6, at her Studio City, California home at 72 years of age. The cause of her death was ovarian cancer, which she had been battling before her death. Known as 'The Love Goddess' and 'Aphrodite of the Accordion,' the brash and eclectic comedienne was born in Oak Park, Illinois on November 7, 1949, to a Polish mother, Joann, and an Italian father, Caesar. 

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Tenuta attended the University of Illinois in Chicago, where she majored in theatre and grew up in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood. She first started her career at Chicago's famed Second City and her first-ever live performance helped shape the comedienne she would become. In her first show, she shocked audiences by dressing up as the Virgin Mary. She started developing her 'Love Goddess' character after incorporating her accordion into the act. 

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Tenuta worked odd jobs that included wrapping meat and taking an inventory at an outlet for Catholic religious attire after completing her graduation. "I got fired because they caught me trying the stuff on," said Tenuta in a 1989 interview with AP, USA Today reports. "So the boss came in, and I guess he got kind of upset. And I said, 'Well, I have to see if they look good, pig. I'm trying to make improvements for these broads.' "

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Comedian Judy Tenuta performs at the Laugh Out Loud Comedy Benefit for Lifeworks Mentoring at the Laugh Factory on March 24, 2009 in West Hollywood, California.
Judy Tenuta was a two-time Grammy nominee and received two nominations for Best Spoken Word Comedy Album in 1995 and 1996 for 'Attention Butt Pirates and Lesbetarians' and 'In Goddess We Trust' (Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

Love Goddess was just one character in her comedic arsenal, with others such as 'The Petite Flower,' 'Fashion-Plate Saint,' 'Queen of Candy-Pants,' 'Princess of Panty Shields,' 'Empress of Elvis Impersonators' and the 'Buffer of Foreheads.' Tenuta later hosted an HBO comedy special with Ellen DeGeneres, Rita Rudner, and Paula Poundstone after she left Chicago for New York City.

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She also starred in movies such as Love Bites and played Lorena Bobbitt in Weird Al  Yankovic's Headline News music video. The actress also played Madame Judy on The Weird Al Show and voiced roles on Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Johnny Bravo. Her last two roles were in the movies There's No Such Thing As Vampires and In the Position, released in 2020 and 2021 respectively. She received Grammy nominations for Best Comedy Album for Attention Butt-Pirates and Lesbetarians! and In Goddess We Trust.

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Comedienne Judy Tenuta arrives at the opening night of The Jon Lovitz Comedy Club benefitting the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund on May 28, 2009 in Universal City, California.
Judy Tenuta died battling ovarian cancer at her home in Los Angeles, with her family around her (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Despite her outlandish clothes and bizarre stage appearance, Tenuta said most people caught on immediately to her act, which included the self-centered "Judyism" religion. "In my religion, I'm the only one that gets to complain. The really nice thing about my religion is you can forget all about your problems and think about mine for a while," she said. 

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The actress is survived by her life partner Vern Pang; brothers Daniel, John, Steven, Thomas, and James; sister Barbara; and two nephews, four nieces, and a grand-niece. 

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