Joan Rivers, Trailblazing Comic, Red Carpet Fixture, Dead at 81

Yahoo Celebrity

Joan Rivers, the razor-witted comic and red carpet queen, died Thursday of complications suffered from minor surgery in New York City a week ago. She was 81.

As she had done throughout the past week, daughter and frequent collaborator Melissa Rivers thanked fans for their well wishes and tireless support.

"It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers. She passed peacefully at 1:17 p.m. ET surrounded by family and close friends. My son [Cooper] 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, 46, said in a statment.

[Related: 'Who Are You Wearing?': How Joan Rivers Reinvented Herself as a Fashion Icon]

"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."

Rivers stopped breathing and slipped into cardiac arrest during the Aug. 28 throat procedure at the out-patient clinic Yorkville Endoscopy (which is being probed by the New York Health Department). She was rushed via ambulance to Mount Sinai Hospital, where she remained in a medically induced coma through the Labor Day weekend but was not breathing on her own.

[Related: Hollywood Hails 'Pioneer' Joan Rivers]

On Wednesday, Melissa announced Joan had been "moved out of intensive care and into a private room where she is being kept comfortable." According to family friend Cindy Adams, the room was professionally decorated with flowers, bows, plants, while show tunes  played on CD and a white faux mink blanket covered the bed. Her hair and makeup were kept immaculate — just as Joan would want it.

Late Wednesday, sources tell The Insider With Yahoo, Melissa made the decision to remove her mother from life support.

Joan Rivers, a native New Yorker and relentless worker, had been planning a fall tour of the United Kingdom, Before They Close the Lid, and had a slate of QVC and stateside comedy-show appearances booked through Thanksgiving while also fulfilling her duties as host of E!'s Fashion Police. She last appeared on stage, at New York's Laurie Beechman, on Aug. 27, the night before her throat procedure.

Indeed, Rivers was a pioneering entertainer and comic who kicked in walls, ceilings, and anything else that got in her way during an up-and-down, 50-plus-year career.

[Photos: Remembering Joan Rivers Through Her Instagram]

"We wanted to do it, and we did it, and we don't give a damn," Rivers once said. At the time, she was talking about her 1978 big-screen comedy, Rabbit Test, which she wrote, directed and willed to life, but she could've been talking about any stage of her show-business run.

On stage, Rivers insulted her way to the top of the comedy world, connecting to fans with her catchphrase, "Can we talk?" On the awards-show red carpet, she spoke her mind on fashion and celebrity, helping define E!'s network brand and creating a spectator sport and making "Who are you wearing?" part of the pop-culture vernacular. On late-night TV, she crashed the boys' club as Johnny Carson's first permanent guest host on The Tonight Show, and, later, as the host of her own show on the then-fledgling Fox network.

[Photos: Joan Rivers's Most Memorable TV Appearances]

Rivers reinvented her career about as many times as the outspoken advocate of plastic surgery freshened her look. She was so tireless you could get tired just thinking about the calendar she kept. The title of the 2010 documentary about her life said it all: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

Born June 8, 1933, Rivers anchored E!'s Fashion Police, a spinoff of the Live from the Red Carpet coverage she began doing for the network in the mid-1990s. She hosted the online talk show, In Bed With Joan. She appeared with Melissa, her only child, in the WEtv reality series, Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best? She appeared on — and won — The Celebrity Apprentice. She hawked jewelry on QVC. She guest starred on an episode of the Louis C.K. comedy series, Louie.

[Related: Joan Rivers: Revisiting Her 'Messy' Feud With Johnny Carson]

And that's only a sampling of her credits from the past five years.  

Prior to her run as the doyen of the red carpet, Rivers was best known for having her career launched and temporarily derailed by Carson.

Anointed by the late-night king in the 1960s, Rivers was a Tonight Show favorite who went from frequent guest to frequent guest host to, in 1983, permanent guest host. In 1986, she signed to host a rival late-night show for Fox. The move took her to the next level, but alienated Carson, who banished her from his show and from his life — until the end of his life. (Carson died in 2005.)

"I kept saying, 'I don’t understand, why is he mad?'" Rivers wrote in a piece for The Hollywood Reporter in 2012. "He was not angry at anybody else. I think he really felt because I was a woman that I just was his. That I wouldn’t leave him. I know this sounds very warped. But I don’t understand otherwise what was going on."

[Related: Joan Rivers's Most Outrageous Celeb Insults]

Her Fox show, The Late Show, went very badly. Low ratings led to Rivers's firing only seven months into her run; three months later, in August 1987, Rivers's husband and longtime manager, Edgar Rosenberg, committed suicide. Rivers career and life was in shambles. Then, just weeks after Rosenberg's death, she accepted a presenter's gig at that fall's Primetime Emmy Awards.

"I don't want a warm hand on my shoulder," Rivers told People magazine at the time. "I don't want sympathy audiences."

[Related: A Look Back at Joan Rivers's Film Career]

Rivers kept on keeping on. From the ashes of The Late Show, she put in time on Hollywood Squares. She launched a morning talk show, The Joan Rivers Show, that brought her a 1990 Daytime Emmy. She joined E! in the early 1990s when it didn't take much to get the exclamation-point network excited.

"The first time we got a 1 rating at E!, the room was filled with flowers," Rivers told the Los Angeles Times in 2004.

It was in 2004 that Rivers and daughter Melissa jumped to the TV Guide Channel for a big-money deal and the chance to create a red carpet franchise on that fledgling network. (It didn't take; the Rivers women were out by 2007.)

View photo

.
Joan and daughter Melissa (FilmMagic)

Joan and daughter Melissa (FilmMagic)

Though her humor was caustic — she did Elizabeth Taylor no favors during the actress's weight battles — Rivers was no bridge-burner. She reached out to Carson (though, no, he never did reach back out to her). She returned to the Tonight Show at the invite of Jimmy Fallon. She returned to the E! fold as the once-again host of Fashion Police.

[Related: Joan Rivers on 'Saturday Night Live': The Memorable Sketches]

In a statement Thursday, E! saluted Rivers."For decades Joan has made people laugh, shattered glass ceilings and revolutionized comedy. She was unapologetic and fiercely dedicated to entertaining all of us.... The world is less funny without her in it. Today our hearts are heavy knowing Joan will not be bounding through the doors."

Basically, she was too pragmatic to turn down work — work is what she did. When Spaceballs, the 1987 Mel Brooks big-screen spoof, went the animated-series route in 2008, she was back as the voice of Dot Matrix. Her last tweet, on Aug. 27, was a plug for her Fashion Police special on the Emmys and the Video Music Awards.

"I'm never gonna retire," Rivers told People last year.

True to her word, she didn't.

View Comments (12016)