Comedy legend Joan Rivers dies at 81

09.04.14 3 years ago

AP Photo

Comedy and television legend Joan Rivers has died at the age 81, according to an official statement from her daughter Melissa Rivers.

“It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers. She passed peacefully at 1:17pm surrounded by family and close friends. My son and I would like to thank the doctors, nurses, and staff of Mount Sinai Hospital for the amazing care they provided for my mother. [Melissa's son] Cooper and I have found ourselves humbled by the outpouring of love, support, and prayers we have received from around the world. They have been heard and appreciated. My mother”s greatest joy in life was to make people laugh. Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon.”

The comedy and television legend went into cardiac arrest during minor surgery on her vocal cords on Aug. 28 in New York, and was then put on life support on Aug. 30. Yesterday (Sept. 3) Melissa Rivers said that her mother had been moved from Mount Sinai Hospital's ICU into a private room.

The Emmy Award-winning television host was most recently behind programs like “Fashion Police,” reality show “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?” and online series “In Bed With Joan” and “Drunken Celebrity Phone Calls.” Her comedy career started back in the 1960s, in standup, with her big break being on “The Tonight Show: Starring Johnny Carson” in 1965. She later went on to be the first permanent guest host of that program.

Rivers' achievements as a comic, an author and writer helped to break down barriers for female entertainers today. She had a snappy, husky voice, which was as recognizable as her “Can we talk?” catchphrase and jokes about her age and her own plastic surgery. She was known for her willingness to take on controversial subject matter with course openness, doling her riffs on current events, sex, celebrity, fashion and gender.

“I mock everybody, regardless of race, creed or color,” she told the Toronto Star this year. “Every joke I make, no matter how tasteless, is there to draw attention to something I really care about.”

Rivers was born Joan Alexandra Molinsky on June 8, 1933 and grew up in Brooklyn before moving to Westchester County, N.Y. She took an early interest in theater and acting and found her way into comedy by taking aim at herself. It was a skill that helped to launch her first TV vehicle “The Show With Joan Rivers” in 1968. It was that same year her only daughter Melissa was born, while she was with her second husband Edgar Rosenberg. (Her first husband was James Sanger, whom she married in 1955. The marriage was annuled six months later.)

Rivers moved to Los Angeles in 1972. She wrote the book, “Having a Baby Can Be a Scream,” and the feature film “Rabbit Test,” the co-created a TV series “Husbands, Wives, and Lovers” for CBS. It was around this time she became one of the highest paid entertainers in Las Vegas and was regularly headlining the biggest stages in America, including Carnegie Hall.

Her short-lived “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” aired in 1986. A year later, Rosenberg committed suicide. Rivers moved to New York with Melissa, starred in Neil Simon's “Broadway Bound” and started her talk show in 1988, “The Joan Rivers Show” with co-host Spike — her dog. She won a Daytime Emmy for Best Talk Show Host 1990. She was also nominated for a Tony Award for her role in “Sally Marr… and her escorts” in 1994

For the past two-and-a-half decades, Rivers continued to toy with TV shows and programming, and began working alongside her daughter on red carpets and as commentators for E!. She made appearances and cameos in projects from “Spaceballs” to “Suddenly Susan” to “Celebrity Apprentice.” She's published a dozen books, including the most recent “Diary of a Mad Diva,” and was the center of 2010 documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.”

During an interview for “Piece of Work” in 2010, Rivers told HitFix she “never ever ever ever ever ever” planned to retire.

“I”m not dead yet, I”m not finished. Watch what I”m doing next. Don”t tell me I opened the door for you. I”ve got six more doors I”m opening and if you”re smart, get behind me. I”m not going to let you in so easily.”

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