Legendary Comedienne Joan Rivers Dies at 81
Legendary comedienne Joan Rivers died Thursday after being taken off of life support, her daughter Melissa told The Associated Press. She was 81.
"It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers," Melissa Rivers said in a statement. "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.
"Cooper and I have found ourselves humbled by the outpouring of love, support, and prayers we have received from around the world," she added. "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."
Rivers was put into a medically-induced coma on August 28, when she was rushed to the hospital after she stopped breathing during surgery on her vocal cords. In recent days, she was taken out of the coma, but remained on life support.
Born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in Brooklyn, New York, Rivers went on to become a pioneering female comic who’s best known currently for her acerbic commentary on E!’s Fashion Police.
"E! and NBCUniversal send our deepest condolences to Melissa, Cooper, and her entire extended family on this incredibly sad day," the network and its parent company said in a joint statement Thursday. "For decades Joan has made people laugh, shattered glass ceilings, and revolutionized comedy. She was unapologetic and fiercely dedicated to entertaining all of us and has left an indelible mark on the people that worked with her and on her legions of fans. She’s been a much beloved member of the E! family for over 20 years and the world is less funny without her in it. Today our hearts are heavy knowing Joan will not be bounding through the doors."
Rivers graduated from Barnard College in 1954 with a degree in English literature and anthropology. While she was trying to break into show business, she worked as a tour guide at Rockefeller Center and a fashion consultant in clothing stores. After being advised by agent Tony Rivers to change her name, she adopted Joan Rivers as her stage name.
In the late 1950s, Rivers starred in the play Driftwood alongside Barbra Streisand, and then began performing in comedy clubs in New York’s Greenwich Village. Her big break came in the early 1960s when she was a regular guest of Jack Paar and later her mentor Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.
Also in the 1960s, Rivers was a regular on Candid Camera and The Ed Sullivan Show, and began hosting her first daytime talk show, That Show with Joan Rivers. (Carson was her first guest.) In the 1970s, Riversappeared on Hollywood Squares and The Carol Burnett Show. In 1973, she wrote the TV movie The Girl Most Likely to…, which starred Stockard Channing. Rivers also wrote and directed Rabbit Test in 1978, which starred Billy Crystal.
By the mid-1980s, Rivers was Carson’s regular guest host on The Tonight Show. She was also nominated for a Grammy Award for her comedy albumWhat Becomes a Semi-Legend Most?.
Rivers’ friendship with Carson came to an end in 1986, when she accepted an offer from Fox to host her own late-night show that would air oppositeThe Tonight Show. When she called Carson to discuss the situation, he hung up on her and the two famously never spoke again. Rivers was also banned from appearing on The Tonight Show, a blacklisting that was upheld by Carson’s successors Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien. Jimmy Fallon ended the ban by having Rivers as a guest during his first episode hosting the show, on February 17, 2014.
The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers was short-lived, however. In 1987, Fox fired Rivers and her husband Edgar Rosenburg, who was a producer on the show, and continued the show with rotating hosts. Three months after the firing, Rosenburg committed suicide.
In 1989, Rivers launched another daytime talk show, The Joan Rivers Show, which aired until 1994 and for which she won an Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host in 1990.
Rivers and her daughter Melissa teamed up for the first time in 1994 to host E!’s pre-show for the Golden Globe Awards. The pair went on to become fixtures on the red carpet ahead of the Oscars and other awards shows for E! and later the TV Guide Channel. Also in 1994, Rivers wrote and starred in the Broadway play Sally Marr…and Her Escorts, about Lenny Bruce’s mother. She was nominated for a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for playing the title role.
In 2009, Joan and Melissa were contestants on Celebrity Apprentice, which Joan went on to win. The same year, she was the subject of a Comedy Central roast. A biopic of Rivers, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, was released in 2010, the same year Rivers began co-hosting Fashion Police.
Rivers and her daughter also starred on a reality show for WE tv, Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?, which premiered in 2011. The fourth season of the show aired earlier this year.
In 2013, Rivers launched a talk show on YouTube called In Bed with Joan, which featured her interviewing celebrity guests in her bedroom.
Rivers is survived by her daughter Melissa and grandson Cooper.
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