Today is the 89th birthday of the bold, brash, and brave entertainer Joan Rivers. She broke down barriers, shattered walls, reinvented herself, diversified, and redefined career longevity. Her long list of accomplishments is hard to choose a favorite, but I really do love Girl Most Likely To, the 70s TV movie she co-wrote. The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.
NAME: Joan Rivers
OCCUPATION: Talk Show Host, Actress, Reality Television Star, Comedian
BIRTH DATE: June 8, 1933
PLACE OF BIRTH: Brooklyn, New York
DEATH DATE: September 4, 2014
PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
EDUCATION: Barnard College, Connecticut College
REMAINS: Cremated (ashes scattered in Wyoming)
HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME 7000 Hollywood Blvd. (television)
EMMY 1990 (outstanding talk show host)
BEST KNOWN FOR: Comedian Joan Rivers is known for appearing on ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,’ creating a Grammy Award-nominated comedy album and launching a syndicated daytime talk show, among various other projects.
The daughter of Russian immigrant parents, Joan Rivers—originally Joan Alexandra Molinsky—was born on June 8, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York. She was the youngest of two daughters, and her father was a doctor who had a great sense of humor. The Molinsky family eventually moved out to Larchmont, a suburb of New York City.
Rivers attended Barnard College, where she pursued her interest in performing. She appeared in numerous campus productions during her time there. After graduation, however, Rivers abandoned her dreams of being an entertainer for a more practical career. She went to work as a buyer for a chain store and eventually fell in love with the owner’s son. But this relationship didn’t last—the couple split up six months after tying the knot.
Rivers returned to her passion for performing. Determined to succeed, she appeared in a number of small plays, including a role as a lesbian opposite an equally unknown Barbra Streisand. When it became apparent that acting was not her forte, she switched to comedy and spent the next seven years doing the rounds of New York’s comedy clubs.
Her years as a struggling performer in the coffeehouses of Greenwich Village gave Rivers the experience she needed, and her big break finally came along in 1965: A booking on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson ignited her career, as she was an instant hit.
I have flabby thighs, but fortunately my stomach covers them.
In the late 1960s, Rivers landed her own program called “That Show” with Joan Rivers (also known as The Joan Rivers Show), which featured guests like Florence Henderson, Soupy Sales and Jerry Lewis. She also continued to appear on Carson’s program as well as The Ed Sullivan Show. Before long, Rivers became a household name.
Around this time, Rivers tried her hand with movie work. She had a small part in the 1968 film The Swimmer with Burt Lancaster. Working behind the camera, Rivers co-wrote a 1973 television movie called The Girl Most Likely To and later directed her first film, Rabbit Test (1978), starring Billy Crystal.
By 1983, Rivers was headlining Las Vegas, had a Grammy Award-nominated comedy album and two best-selling books. That same year, she became Carson’s permanent guest host. Rivers’ relationship with Carson would sour only a few years later, however, when FOX offered the comedian her own late-night talk show—which was to be a direct competitor to Carson’s show—and she accepted. The series, entitled The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, began airing in October 1986 and was canceled the following year. According to Rivers, Carson was so infuriated by her decision to leave his show for her own, without consulting him first, that he never spoke to her again. Rivers has maintained that she left The Tonight Show because of a conflict with NBC, not Carson, whom she’s called a father figure as well as “the man who handed me my career.”
Rivers suffered a series of career setbacks during this period. Her show was canceled and the entertainment industry turned its back on her. Additionally, Rivers lost her husband and producer of 22 years, Edgar Rosenberg; he committed suicide in 1987.
Gutsy and determined, Rivers moved back to New York and began rebuilding her life and career. Around 1989, she launched her own syndicated daytime talk show. She went on to win an Emmy Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1990). Later, in 1994, she co-wrote and starred in Sally Marr…and Her Escorts, which garnered her a Tony Award nomination for best actress.
Rivers also established herself as an entertainment commentator, serving as host of the E! series Live from the Red Carpet from 1996 to 2004. No celebrity was spared from her quips and cracks during her tenure.
I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes and, six months later, you have to start all over again.
In her 80s, Joan Rivers continued to juggle a number of different ventures. She designed and sold her own line of costume jewelry and other products on QVC. And in 2010, she was the subject of an acclaimed documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.
Rivers remained a popular TV personality, as well. She served as host of Fashion Police, which allowed her to continue to critique celebrities on the red carpet, and she had her own reality TV show Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? (2011-14), which also featured her daughter Melissa.
I wish I had a twin, so I could know what I’d look like without plastic surgery.
Rivers continued to enjoy success as a writer as well, publishing I Hate Everyone…Starting With Me, in 2012, and Diary of a Mad Diva, in 2014. She maintained a career as a stand-up comedian, playing numerous shows each year.
In August 2014, Rivers underwent surgery on her vocal cords in a New York medical clinic. Rivers stopped breathing during the procedure and was rushed to New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. News reports indicated that Rivers went into cardiac arrest and then was placed in a medically induced coma and on life support. On September 1, it was reported that Rivers was slowly being taken out of the coma. Her daughter Melissa Rivers released a statement through the hospital, thanking “everyone for the overwhelming love and support” for her mother.
Melissa Rivers released a statement saying her mother, Joan Rivers, died peacefully surrounded by family and close friends on September 4, 2014 at the age of 81.
Joan Rivers’ funeral took place on September 7, 2014 at New York’s Temple Emanu-El. As fans lined the street, celebrities and notables including Barbara Walters, Michael Kors, Donald Trump, Howard Stern, Whoopi Goldberg, and Kathie Lee Gifford attended the service to pay their respects to the icon.
In October 2014, the New York City medical examiner’s office released its report on the official cause of Joan Rivers’ death saying the comedy legend died of brain damage due to lack of oxygen and that the manner of death was a predictable “therapeutic complication.” Rivers had been sedated with the anesthetic propofol during a routine medical procedure to examine her voice and treat an acid reflux condition.
The Apprentice Winner (2009)
The Joan Rivers Position Host (2004-06)
The Joan Rivers Show Host (1989-93)
The Electric Company Narrator, The Adventures of Letterman (1972-76)
FILMOGRAPHY AS DIRECTOR
Rabbit Test (9-Apr-1978)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s (3-May-2013) · Herself
Iron Man 3 (18-Apr-2013) · Herself
Joan Rivers: Don’t Start with Me (15-Nov-2012) · Herself
The Smurfs (28-Jul-2011) · Party Guest
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (25-Jan-2010) · Herself
Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (13-Oct-2007) · Herself
First Daughter (24-Sep-2004) · Herself
Shrek 2 (15-May-2004) · Herself [VOICE]
Whispers: An Elephant’s Tale (10-Mar-2000) [VOICE]
The Intern (21-Jan-2000) · Dolly Bellows
Serial Mom (13-Apr-1994) · Herself
Christmas at Pee Wee’s Playhouse (1988) · Herself
Spaceballs (24-Jun-1987) · Dot Matrix [VOICE]
The Muppets Take Manhattan (13-Jul-1984) · Cameo Guest Star
Rabbit Test (9-Apr-1978)
The Swimmer (15-May-1968)
Author of books:
Having a Baby Can Be a Scream (1985)
Enter Talking (1987, memoir, with Richard Meryman)
Still Talking (1991, memoir, with Richard Meryman)
From Mother to Daughter: Thoughts and Advice on Life, Love, and Marriage (1998)
Men Are Stupid, And They Like Big Boobs: A Woman’s Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery (2008, with Valerie Frankel)
Murder at the Academy Awards: A Red Carpet Murder Mystery (2009, novel, with Jerrilyn Farmer)
What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most? (1983)