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Broadway legend Carol Channing dead at 97

Legendary Broadway actress Carol Channing died early Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., her publicist announced. She was 97.

“It is with extreme heartache, that I have to announce the passing of an original Industry Pioneer, Legend and Icon — Miss Carol Channing,” B Harlan Boll told Broadway World in a statement. Boll said the Broadway icon had twice suffered strokes in the last year.

“I admired her before I met her, and have loved her since the day she stepped … or fell rather … into my life,” she said. “It is so very hard to see the final curtain lower on a woman who has been a daily part of my life for more than a third of it. We supported each other, cried with each other, argued with each other, but always ended up laughing with each other.”

Channing, who was born Jan 31, 1921, in Seattle, got her start as gold digger Lorelei Lee in the 1949 Broadway play “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” In 1964, she won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of matchmaker Dolly Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” — a character she embodied in almost 5,000 performances.

“I’ll never forget it,” she told The Post of her signature song in 2009. “I’m still in love with the Broadway show of it.”

The role was so iconic she was often invited to perform at major events, including the 1964 Democratic convention where she sang “Hello, Lyndon,” for Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign.

She once called the role of Dolly Levi, “as deep as Lady MacBeth,” but added: “The essence of the character was her unquenchable thirst for life.”

That sentence could have also been used to describe Channing, who credited her eternal ebullience and optimism to her lifelong faith in Christian Science.

Channing performed in other Broadway shows but none with the same type of magnetism and charisma. Still, she was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical three other times — in 1956 for “The Vamp,” 1961 for “Show Girl” and 1974 for “Lorelei.”

The warmly engaging performer revealed in a 1994 interview that she was first drawn to the stage after seeing Ethel Waters sing when she was in the fourth grade.

She credited her father, a newspaper editor, with encouraging her to pursue that dream.

“He told me you can dedicate yourself at 7 or 97. And the people who do that are happier people.”

Channing, who grew up in San Francisco, followed her dream to Bennington College in Vermont where she majored in drama and dance.

There, she was sent to get more experience in her field in New York and found a gig at a review that lasted only two weeks — though a New Yorker critic remarked: “You will hear more about a satiristic chanteuse named Carol Channing.”

Later, Channing commented of that experience: “That was it. I said goodbye to trigonometry, zoology and English literature.”

In 1995, she was the recipient of the 1995 Lifetime Achievement Tony Award.

Channing also appeared in several movies, including “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” in which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress,” and “The First Traveling Saleslady” and “Skidoo.”

She was often asked to perform on television and in nightclubs and partnered with George Burns in Las Vegas and on a national tour for a time.

Channing was less lucky in love, having two early marriages that ended in divorce and an unhappy relationship with her third husband.

The first nuptials were to writer Theodore Naidish when she was 20 in 1941. The couple lived near Naidish’s grandparents in Brighton Beach, and Channing recalled learning to speak fluent Yiddish from her husband’s grandfather.

Her second husband, Alexander Carson, played center for the Ottawa Rough Riders Canadian football team. They had one son together, editorial cartoonist Channing Lowe.

Then in 1956, Channing wed her manager and publicist Charles Lowe, whom she remained married to for 42 years.

She filed for divorce in 1998, alleging that he misappropriated her funds and humiliated her in public. She said they’d only had sex twice in their four decades of marriage. Lowe died before the divorce was finalized.

Years later, Channing rekindled a romance with her junior high school sweetheart Harry Kullijian. They married in 2003 — the same year her best-selling memoir “Just Lucky I Guess” was published — and lived in Rancho Mirage. He died in 2011 at 91.

Channing’s love affair with live performance never dwindled.

“Some people don’t realize what a delicate craft it is,” she told The Post in 2009. “It’s an art to reach the audience. They’ve saved their hard-earned money, gotten babysitters, driven in from everywhere — long distances, short distances, gotten on the subway.

“All you know is you’ve got to reach them. You’ve got to keep your mind on lifting their lives, not my life. I’m not there for my own pleasure.”

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