Joan Rivers has passed away after suffering complications after vocal chord surgery in New York City. She 81 years old, but her death came as a shock to many of us because she was such a superstar. She was still in the public eye, booking and performing both live and televised shows, tweeting and speaking out for what she believed in.
One of America's best-known comedians, Joan was considered a pioneer for women in stand-up comedy and a celebrity reality TV vanguard. She lived her life on her terms, doing what she loved, and she loved being in the spotlight. She was someone I admired from a very young age for these reasons. She broke glass ceiling after ceiling, represented our innermost feelings and said what no one else would say.
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Joan started her career in the 1960s when she joined the comedy club scene in NYC's Greenwich Village which included Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Woody Allen and George Carlin. After being an avid guest of Johnny Carson's for many years, he crowned her as his regular guest host on “The Tonight Show” in 1983.
She was irreverent, frank and daring, a woman who spoke her mind. She said, “Screw kindness. You have to tell the truth, that’s what comedy is all about.” She would share one self-deprecating joke after another, finding comedy and connection at her own expense, giving voice to things about women's lives that had never been said.
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That’s when I became familiar with both the humor and pain of Joan Rivers. My family looked forward to watching her host when Johnny Carson took time off. She talked about marriage, raising children and other topics we could all relate to with an acerbic edge like no comedienne we had ever seen or heard. Never one to hold anything back, she made fun of celebrities, the superficiality of Hollywood and her own obsession with plastic surgery.
Her Tonight Show gig ended when she angered Carson for not revealing plans about her own late night show, which competed with his. She would never appear on his show again, nor would she appear on Jay Leno. However, she did recently appear on Jimmy Fallon’s show. "It's about time!" she joked to Variety. "I've been sitting in a taxi outside NBC with the meter running since 1987."
Her own show lasted three years, during which time her beloved husband of 22 years, Edgar Rosenberg, killed himself, devastating her and her daughter. We watched her bounce back from the worst tragedy imaginable.
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She told People that she “was losing everything—my best friend, the only stability in my life, the only person I totally trusted, my rock. Suddenly I realized that I drew all my strength from Edgar.” She dealt with the death by throwing herself into her work. “I can say exactly what I think onstage,” she said. “And on a good night when 500 people have said, 'Yeah, we think the same way'—I come off feeling wonderful.”
In 1990, she won both an Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show and earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, proving that she was a survivor. She’s been working non-stop ever since—from writing and directing the film Rabbit Test to producing a Grammy-nominated comedy album to hosting daytime talk shows to appearing on Broadway Sally Marr...and Her Escorts to hosting How'd You Get So Rich? on TVLand to selling her own jewelry line on QVC to playing herself in a TV movie about her life to signing on with E! Entertainment Television on a show called “Fashion Police” (along with her daughter, Melissa) taking on fashion reporting and pre-award shows on the red carpet to a WE TV reality show "Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?”
Her book Diary of a Mad Diva recently hit the New York Times best-seller list. She also had a hilarious web series “In Bed with Joan,” a no-holds barred internet chat show in which she jumped in bed with guests to conduct interviews. She was also continuing her stand up career and had a fully scheduled tour planned.“I love my success,” Rivers said when she was roasted on Comedy Central about six years ago. “I love that people know me and say hello. Tell me the downside. When people talk about the burdens of success, you want to spit in their fucking face.”
Joan Rivers loved being famous. She loved being funny. And she was damn good at it. May she rest in peace.
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Holly Rosen Fink
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