Andy Alfaro/Sacramento Bee/MCT/Sipa USA)

Carol Channing Mourned In San Francisco, City Where She Grew Up

Margie Shafer
January 15, 2019 - 7:16 pm

Bay Area residents mourned the death of Broadway icon Carol Channing, who grew up in San Francisco and started her stage career here. She died today at the age of 97. 

Channing was born in Seattle, but her family moved to San Francisco when she was just two weeks old, after her father took a job here. Channing attended Aptos Middle School and Lowell High School in the city. 

Lowell's theater is named after Channing. 

“She’s just a very inspiring figure, and she had a very inspiring career,” said drama teacher Anne Marie Ullman to KCBS Radio. “Obviously the most famous thing she did was Hello Dolly.”

Channing’s performance in the 1964 musical won her a Tony Award, and she reprised the role in the late 1970s and yet again, in 1995, performing the title role more than 5,000 times.

Channing’s most recent visit to Lowell was four years ago. She told the students there that they inspired her.

In lieu of flowers, Channing’s family has requested that donations be sent to the school where she honed her theater chops.

“We will continue to honor her by having a very high-quality theater program here,” Ullman said.

One Lowell student said to KCBS Radio that Channing was “larger than life.” Another said that knowing that Lowell had an alum like Channing made him prouder to attend the school. 

To many people in San Francisco's gay community, Channing was a beloved celebrity. 

Derek Spreckelmeyer, who waits tables at The Cove on Castro, says Channing openly embraced her gay fans “long before it was fashionable or before it was considered proper.”

Channing would routinely return to San Francisco to perform, including wildly entertaining shows in San Francisco’s Castro District and on other stages.

Many drag performers loved giving their own rendition of Channing with her big silver hair, large smile and signature voice.

“She seemed like she loved everyone. She always had a huge smile on her face,” Spreckelmeyer said. “She was a little goofy, but I think it brought out the fact you don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful."

Written by Brian Krans.