A week ago, the world lost legendary comedienne Joan Rivers, known for her wit, sharp tongue, and huge heart on Thursday, Sept. 4, at the age of 81, due to complications from an endoscopic procedure on her vocal chords.
Just days before her death, Rivers was doing what she loved most, making people laugh, by taping her last “Fashion Police” special on the MTV VMAs and the Primetime Emmy Awards, and performing a stand-up routine for her fans in Manhattan. The comedienne, who had been working since the late 1950s, wasn’t one for slowing down even in her 80s, as she was at the top of her game taking on hot-button issues and her favorite celebrity targets like John Travolta and Woody Allen.
The funny lady, born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in June 1933, wasn’t always an in-demand comedienne and fashion critic. Like any young comedian trying to make it big, she booked appearances in comedy clubs for several years, but got her big break when she landed a guest appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson in 1965.
She was a frequent and favorite guest on the show, and over the years Carson became one of her biggest supporters. Rivers spent nearly 20 years as a part of “The Tonight Show” family, becoming Carson’s official guest host, but in 1986 she decided to part ways with NBC to star in her own late night talk show, “The Late Show” on FOX.
Becoming the first woman to host a late night talk show was boundary-breaking, and led the way for female comediennes of today. Unfortunately her decision to leave Carson was the end of their friendship, as they never spoke again after news broke that she would be at the helm of her own show.
“The Late Show” was a family affair for the star, with her husband Edgar Rosenberg serving as the show’s executive producer. After just months of being on air, she was replaced by FOX, and the failure of the show was too much to bear for Rivers’ husband who committed suicide in 1987.
Rivers wasn’t out of the host’s desk for too long, because in 1989 she returned to television as the host of “The Joan Rivers Show” which earned her an Emmy award. In spite of her success in the talk show circuit, most people know her today as the fashion industry’s most honest critic.
Fashion wouldn’t be what it is now without Rivers and her daughter, Melissa, who started E!’s red carpet in 1996 where they asked the questions that people wanted to hear, and told celebrities what they really thought of their couture. It was Rivers who came up with the infamous question, “who are you wearing”, which she asked actress Jennifer Tilly as she made her way down the red carpet.
Today that question is standard red carpet fare for interviewers, and is still the question that fans most want the answer to as they see their favorite celebrities step out of their limousines decked in head-to-toe designer ensembles. Designers and celebrities wouldn’t be as eager to let the public know who they’re wearing if it wasn’t for Rivers and her quick thinking all those years ago.
She continued critiquing fashion as part of the cast of one of E!’s highest rated programs, “Fashion Police”, which she hosted for four years beginning in 2010 with Giuliana Rancic, Kelly Osbourne, and George Kotsiopoulos. Every Friday night, Rivers and her “Joan Rangers” would dissect the best and worst looks of the week to applause and laughter from the studio audience and millions of fans watching worldwide.
Where there was Joan, there was also Melissa, as the duo worked on countless projects together including the aforementioned red carpet specials, “Fashion Police” in which Melissa served as the executive producer, and their hit reality show, “Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best?” Rivers wasn’t just a fashion critic, as she was also a hugely successful fashion designer with a jewelry and apparel line sold through QVC.
Joan Rivers was one of the hardest working woman in show business. She was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album in 1984, a Tony Award for her original play in 1994, and she penned 12 books including, “I Hate Everyone…Starting With Me.” It was in this book that she detailed what she wanted her funeral to be like, with requests that only a diva like Rivers could make, fitting of a Hollywood party with a red carpet and paparazzi.
Last Sunday, Rivers got what she wanted when dozens of paparazzi lined the streets outside of a New York synagogue to snap photos of the A-list celebrities in attendance at her funeral. It was exactly the kind of affair she would have dreamed of herself, with bagpipers playing and fans shouting their love from the sidelines.
Her jokes were always sharp and witty, and people loved her honesty on all topics from politics to fashion. She made people laugh and brought joy to her family, friends, and fans lives.
She went out on top, just as she would have wanted. Goodbye Joan, thanks for the laughs.