Her television debut - in 1965 - was on The Merv Griffin Show; four years later, Lily Tomlin was one of the stars of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, a genuine pop culture phenomenon which made her a star overnight. She's never looked back.
Many of the characters Tomlin introduced on Laugh-In - most notably Edith Ann, Ernestine, and my personal favourite Judith Beasley - she has continued to use in her ongoing career. The comedy albums she recorded in the 70s are much loved, and likewise her movie roles have been both varied and highly regarded; so beloved is she that when clips of her on-set battles with director David O. Russell surfaced on YouTube, he took the brunt of the criticism. Still, she was classy enough to brush it off when later questioned.
Although breathtakingly coy about her personal life (which was the biggest open secret since... Well, since Rock Hudson) Tomlin finally came out in 2000, although her narration of the 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet, an adaptation of the landmark book by Vito Russo, is considered by many to be her actual coming out - if, in fact, she was ever in.
If you haven't had the chance to see it yet, rent the 1992 film version of her master work The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe - a show written by her partner Jane Wagner, which she performed extensively both on Broadway and in a lengthy national tour. Often referred to as a one-women show, to call it that is an affront to its author; it is in fact a two-woman show performed by one woman and features many memorable characters. One of the best lines in the show is: 'What is reality anyway? Nothing but a collective hunch.' That line seems to sum up Lily Tomlin's world view pretty neatly.
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