Chicago’s beloved comedian, actress, Judy Tenuta passes at 72

Judy Tenuta

Two-time Grammy Award nominated comedian, actress, accordion virtuoso, and Chicago native, Judy Tenuta has passed away at age 72 from ovarian cancer.

News of her passing was confirmed by a statement provided to the Associated Press by her manager, Roger Paul, as well as confirming her real age. Tenuta had claimed her birthdate as Nov. 7, 1965, but she was actually born in 1949, Neal said. “She was old school so she would never tell her real age, but now that she’s gone we can tell her real age.”

Tenuta was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on November 7, 1949 and grew up in a staunchly Irish-Catholic neighborhood, graduating from Immaculate Heart of Mary High School in Westchester, Illinois and attended the University of Illinois at Chicago where she majored in theater. 

“The Love Goddess,” who founded her own fictional religion “Judyism” began her comedic adventures when she took improv classes at Second City. Her staunch Catholic upbringing was incorporated into her act and she shocked audiences when she dressed up as the Virgin Mary in her earliest performances. Her friends had encouraged her to incorporate the accordion into her routine, and the rest is history. 

After appearing on Saturday Night Live, she went on to appear in the 1987 HBO comedy special Women of the Night alongside Ellen DeGeneres, Rita Rudner and Paula Poundstone.

On stage, she appeared in The Vagina Monologues and Menopause the Musical, both in L.A. and Chicago, and her own stand-up specials on Showtime, HBO and Lifetime.

By the mid-1980s, Tenuta had gained notice for a series of television ads for MTV and Diet Dr Pepper and moved to Los Angeles, but continued to perform on national tours, making visits to the Chicago circuit.

Tenuta wrote two comedy books Full Frontal Tenudity and The Power of Judyism, and released five comedy CDs, receiving “Best Comedy Album” Grammy nominations for Attention Butt-Pirates and Lesbetarians! and In Goddess We Trust.

Tenuta co-starred with Bruce Vilanch in the indie Sister Mary, and had small roles in Gibsonburg and Hillary and Haley Duff’s Material Girls. Her TV work included appearances in General Hospital, Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, and Corey in the House. In addition to playing minor characters on The Weird Al Show, she was a regular in Al Yankovic’s comedy shorts and music videos.

Yankovic almost immediately took to Twitter to pay his respects, as soon as the news hit the internet:

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Many others also shared their love for the “Love Goddess,” also known as “The Petite Flower”, “Aphrodite of the Accordion”, “Fashion-Plate Saint”, “Queen of Candy-Pants”, “Princess of Panty Shields”, “Empress of Elvis Impersonators,” and the “Buffer of Foreheads.”

Tenuta was an outspoken advocate for gay rights and amassed a faithful following in the LGBT community. During the early years of her career, Tenuta frequently performed at gay bars and clubs around Chicago, and continued to perform at Gay Pride festivals and events across the country until her death.  Tenuta publicly stated that she always felt welcomed and supported by the gay community, and even offered on her official website to officiate same-sex marriages.

Tenuta’s official website shared the following tribute to her made by a friend and collaborator of hers:

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