Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers

Rivers in 2010
Born Joan Alexandra Molinsky
(1933-06-08)June 8, 1933
Brooklyn, New York City, New York, United States
Died September 4, 2014(2014-09-04) (aged 81)
Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States
Cause of death Cardiac arrest
Occupation Actress, comedian, writer, producer, television host
Years active 1959–2014
Home town Larchmont, New York, United States
Religion Reform Judaism
Spouse(s) James Sanger (m. 1955; annulled 1955)
Edgar Rosenberg (m. 1965; d. 1987)
Children Melissa Rivers

Comedy career

Medium Stand-up comedy, film, television, theatre, books
Genres Observational comedy, insult comedy, shock humor, black comedy, ribaldry, improvisational comedy
Influences Lenny Bruce,[1] Phyllis Diller,[2] Sophie Tucker,[2] Pearl Williams, Belle Barth,[2] Totie Fields,[2] Johnny Carson, Zsa Zsa Gabor,[3] Bob Newhart,[3] Woody Allen, Don Rickles
Influenced Sarah Silverman,[4] Margaret Cho,[5] Kathy Griffin,[6] Amy Schumer[2] Chelsea Handler,[7] Roseanne Barr,[7] Greg Proops[8]

Joan Alexandra Molinsky[9] (June 8, 1933 – September 4, 2014), widely known as Joan Rivers, was an American comedian, actress, writer, producer, and television host noted for her often controversial comedic persona alternatingly self-deprecating or sharply acerbic, especially toward celebrities and politicians.

Rivers came to prominence in 1965 as a guest on The Tonight Show. Hosted by her mentor, Johnny Carson, the show established Rivers' comedic style. In 1986, with her own rival program, The Late Show with Joan Rivers, Rivers became the first woman to host a late night network television talk show. She subsequently hosted The Joan Rivers Show (1989–1993), winning a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host. Having become widely known for her comedic red carpet awards show celebrity interviews,[10][11] Rivers co-hosted the E! celebrity fashion show Fashion Police from 2010 to 2014 and starred in reality series Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? (2011–2014) with daughter Melissa Rivers. She was the subject of the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010).

In addition to marketing a line of jewelry and apparel on the QVC shopping channel, Rivers authored 12 best-selling books and released numerous comedy albums. She was nominated in 1984 for a Grammy Award for her album What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most?; and was nominated in 1994 for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance of the title role in Sally Marr...and Her Escorts. In 2015, Rivers posthumously received a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for her book, Diary of a Mad Diva.[12]

In 1968, The New York Times television critic Jack Gould called Rivers "quite possibly the most intuitively funny woman alive".[13][14]

Early life

Rivers was born Joan Alexandra Molinsky on June 8, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York,[15][16][17] the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants Beatrice (née Grushman; January 6, 1906 – October 1975) and Dr. Meyer C. Molinsky (December 7, 1900 – January 1985),[17] who graduated from Long Island College of Medicine. Her elder sister, Barbara Waxler, died on June 3, 2013 at the age of 82.[18][19][20] Rivers was raised in Prospect Heights[21] and Crown Heights[22] in Brooklyn, where she attended the progressive and now-defunct Brooklyn Ethical Culture School and Adelphi Academy of Brooklyn - a college preparatory day school. Her family later moved to Larchmont.[17]

She attended Connecticut College between 1950 and 1952, and graduated from Barnard College in 1954 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature and anthropology; she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.[16][17][23] Before entering show business, Rivers worked at various jobs such as a tour guide at Rockefeller Center,[24] a writer/proofreader at an advertising agency[24] and a fashion consultant at Bond Clothing Stores.[17][25] During this period, agent Tony Rivers advised her to change her name, so she chose Joan Rivers as her stage name.[26]


Rivers with Jim Connell and Jake Holmes in "Jim, Jake & Joan"


During the late 1950s, Rivers appeared in a short-run play, Driftwood, playing a lesbian with a crush on a character played by a then-unknown Barbra Streisand. The play ran for six weeks.[27] Rivers performed in numerous comedy clubs in the Greenwich Village area of New York City in the early 1960s, including The Bitter End and The Gaslight Cafe,[28] before making her first appearances as a guest on the TV program The Tonight Show originating from New York, hosted at the time by Jack Paar.[29]

By 1965, Rivers had a stint on Candid Camera as a gag writer and participant; she was "the bait" to lure people into ridiculous situations for the show. She also made her first appearance on The Tonight Show with new host Johnny Carson, on February 17, 1965.[30] During the same decade, Rivers made other appearances on The Tonight Show as well as The Ed Sullivan Show, while hosting the first of several talk shows. She wrote material for the puppet Topo Gigio. She had a brief role in The Swimmer (1968), starring Burt Lancaster. A year later, she had a short-lived syndicated daytime talk show, That Show with Joan Rivers; Johnny Carson was her first guest.[31] In the middle of the 1960s, she released at least two comedy albums, The Next to Last Joan Rivers Album[32] and Rivers Presents Mr. Phyllis & Other Funny Stories.[33]


By the 1970s, Rivers was appearing on various television comedy and variety shows, including The Carol Burnett Show and a semi-regular stint on Hollywood Squares. From 1972 to 1976, she narrated The Adventures of Letterman, an animated segment for The Electric Company. In 1973, Rivers wrote the TV movie The Girl Most Likely to..., a black comedy starring Stockard Channing. In 1978, Rivers wrote and directed the film Rabbit Test, starring her friend Billy Crystal. During the same decade, she was the opening act for singers Helen Reddy, Robert Goulet, Mac Davis and Sergio Franchi on the Las Vegas Strip.[34]


Rivers spoke of her primary Tonight Show life as having been "Johnny Carson's daughter", a reference to his longtime mentoring of her and, during the 1980s, establishing her as his regular guest host by August 1983. She also hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live, on April 9, 1983.[35] In the same period, she released a best-selling comedy album on Geffen Records, What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most? The album reached No. 22 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album.[36]

During the 1980s, she continued doing stand-up shows along with appearing on various television shows. In February 1983, she performed at Carnegie Hall[37] and the following year, she did stand-up on the United Kingdom's TV show An Audience With Joan Rivers.[38]

A friend of Nancy and President Ronald Reagan, Rivers attended a state dinner in 1983, and later, at the invitation of Nancy, spoke at luncheon at the 1984 Republican National Convention.[39]

In 1984, Rivers published a best-selling humor book, The Life and Hard Times of Heidi Abramowitz, a mock memoir of her brassy, loose comedy character. A television special based on the character, a mock tribute called Joan Rivers and Friends Salute Heidi Abramowitz, was not successful with the public.

The decade was controversial for Rivers. She sued female impersonator Frank Marino for $5,000,000 in 1986, after discovering he was using her real stand-up material in the impersonation of her that he included in his popular Las Vegas act. The two comics reconciled and even appeared together on television in later years.[40]

In 1986 came the move that ended Rivers' longtime friendship with Johnny Carson, who had first hired her as a Tonight Show writer. The soon-to-launch Fox Television Network announced that it was giving her a late night talk show, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, making Rivers the first woman to have her own late night talk show on a major network.[41][42]

The new network planned to broadcast the show 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. Eastern Time, making her a Carson competitor. Carson learned of the show from Fox and not from Rivers. In the documentary, Johnny Carson: King of Late Night, Rivers said she only called Carson to discuss the matter after learning he may have already heard about it and that he immediately hung up on her. In the same interview, she said that she later came to believe that maybe she should have asked for his blessing before taking the job. Rivers was banned from appearing on the Tonight Show, a decision respected by Carson's first two successors Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. After the release of his 2013 biography on Johnny Carson, Carson's attorney Henry Bushkin revealed that he never received a call from Rivers' husband Edgar concerning the move to Fox, contrary to what Edgar had told Rivers.[43] Rivers did not appear on the Tonight Show again until February 17, 2014, when she made a brief appearance on new host Jimmy Fallon's first episode.[44] On March 27, 2014, Rivers returned for an interview.

Shortly after Carson's death in 2005, Rivers said that he had never spoken to her again. In 2008, during an interview with Dr. Pamela Connolly on television's Shrink Rap, Rivers claimed she did call Carson, but he hung up on her at once and repeated the gesture when she called again.

The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers turned out to be flecked by tragedy. When Rivers challenged FOX executives, who wanted to fire her husband Edgar Rosenberg as the show's producer, the network fired them both on May 15, 1987. Three months later, on August 14, 1987, Rosenberg committed suicide in Philadelphia; Rivers blamed the tragedy on his "humiliation" by Fox.[45] Rivers credited Nancy Reagan with helping her after the 1987 suicide of her second husband.[46] Fox attempted to continue the show with a new name (The Late Show) and rotating guest hosts.

Rivers subsequently appeared on various TV shows, including The David Letterman Show[47] and Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special. By 1989, she tried another daytime TV talk show, The Joan Rivers Show,[48] which ran for five years and won her a Daytime Emmy in 1990 for Outstanding Talk Show Host.[49] In 1994, Rivers and daughter Melissa first hosted the E! Entertainment Television pre-awards show for the Golden Globe Awards,[50] and beginning in 1995, E!'s annual Academy Awards pre-awards show as well.[50] Beginning in 1997, Rivers hosted her own radio show on WOR in New York City. Rivers also appeared as one of the center square occupants on the 1986–89 version of The Hollywood Squares, hosted by John Davidson.

In 1994, influenced by the stand-up comedy of Lenny Bruce, Rivers co-wrote and starred in a play about Bruce's mother Sally Marr, who was also a stand-up comic and influenced her son's development as a comic. After 27 previews, "Sally Marr ... and Her Escorts," a play "suggested by the life of Sally Marr" ran on Broadway for 50 performances in May and June 1994.[51] Rivers was nominated for a Drama Desk Award as Outstanding Actress in a Play and a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for playing Sally Marr.[52]


By 2003, Rivers had left her E! red-carpet show for a three-year contract (valued at $6–8 million) to cover award shows' red carpet events for the TV Guide Channel.[53]

Rivers poses for a photograph at The Pierre hotel in New York City, May 24, 2001

Rivers appeared in three episodes of the TV show Nip/Tuck during its second, third and sixth seasons, playing herself.[54][55][56] Rivers appeared regularly on television's The Shopping Channel (in Canada) and QVC (in both the United States and the UK), promoting her own line of jewelry under the brand name "The Joan Rivers Collection". She was also a guest speaker at the opening of the American Operating Room Nurses' 2000 San Francisco Conference. Both Joan and Melissa Rivers were frequent guests on Howard Stern's radio show, and Joan Rivers often appeared as a guest on UK panel show 8 Out of 10 Cats.

In 2004, Rivers was part of the formal receiving party when Ronald Reagan was placed in state at the United States Capitol.[57] Rivers was one of only four Americans invited to the Wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Camilla Parker Bowles on April 9, 2005.[58] On August 16, 2007, Rivers began a two-week workshop of her new play, with the working title "The Joan Rivers Theatre Project", at The Magic Theatre in San Francisco.[59] On December 3, 2007, Rivers performed in the Royal Variety Show 2007 at the Liverpool Empire Theatre, England, with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip present.[60]

In January 2008, Rivers became one of 20 hijackers to take control of the Big Brother house in the UK for one day in spin-off TV show Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack. On June 24, 2008, Rivers appeared on NBC-TV's show Celebrity Family Feud and competed with her daughter against Ice-T and Coco.

Rivers and daughter Melissa were contestants in 2009 on the second Celebrity Apprentice. Throughout the season, each celebrity raised money for a charity of his or her choice; Rivers selected God's Love We Deliver.[61] After a falling out with poker player Annie Duke, following Melissa's on-air firing (elimination) by Donald Trump, Rivers left the green room telling Clint Black and Jesse James that she would not be in the next morning. Rivers later returned to the show and on May 3, 2009, she became a finalist in the series. The other finalist was Duke.[62][63] On the season finale, which aired live on May 10, Rivers was announced the winner and hired to be the 2009 Celebrity Apprentice.

Rivers was featured on the show Z Rock as herself; she was also a special "pink-carpet" presenter for the 2009 broadcast of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. She was also roasted in a Comedy Central special, taped on July 26, 2009, and aired on August 9, 2009. From August 2009, Rivers began starring in the new reality TV series How'd You Get So Rich? on TV Land. A documentary film about Rivers, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival at the Castro Theatre on May 6, 2010.

In 2011, Rivers appeared in a commercial for Go Daddy, which debuted during the broadcast of Super Bowl XLV.[64] She made two appearances on It's Showtime at the Apollo, once as a comedian and once as a guest host.

Rivers performing at a London Udderbelly event in May 2009

Joan and her daughter premiered the new show Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? on WE tv. The series follows Joan moving to California to be closer to her family. She moves in with daughter Melissa while searching for a home of her own. WE tv then ordered a new season consisting of 10 episodes, which premiered in January 2012. In 2011, Rivers was featured as herself in Season 2 of Louis C.K.'s self-titled show Louie, where she performed on-stage. Beginning September 10, 2010, Rivers co-hosted the E! show Fashion Police, along with Giuliana Rancic, Kelly Osbourne, and George Kotsiopoulos commenting on the dos and don'ts of celebrity fashion. The show started as a half-hour program but expanded to one hour on March 9, 2012. On August 7, 2012, Rivers showed up in Burbank, California to protest that the warehouse club Costco would not sell her New York Times best-selling book, I Hate Everyone ... Starting with Me. She handcuffed herself to a shopping cart and shouted through a megaphone. The police were called to the scene and she left without incident; no arrests were made.[65] On March 5, 2013, she launched a new online talk show on YouTube, called In Bed with Joan.

On August 26, 2014, Rivers hosted a taping of Fashion Police with Kelly Osbourne, Giuliana Rancic and George Kotsiopoulos about the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards and the 2014 MTV Movie Awards. (This was her last television appearance before her death.)[66]

The day before her throat surgery, Joan released her most recent podcast of In Bed with Joan, with LeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian.[67]

She appeared posthumously with other female comedians in the documentary MAKERS: Women in Comedy, which premiered on PBS in October 2014.[68]

Comedic style

During her 55-year career as a comedian, her tough-talking style of satirical humor was both praised and criticized as truthful, yet too personal, too gossipy, and very often abrasive. Nonetheless, with her ability to "tell it like it is," she became a pioneer of contemporary stand-up comedy. Commenting about her style, she told biographer Gerald Nachman, "Maybe I started it. We're a very gossipy culture. All we want to know now is private lives."[69]:619

However, her style of humor, which often relied on making jokes about her own life and satirizing the lives of celebrities and public figures, was sometimes criticized as insensitive. Her jokes about Elizabeth Taylor and Adele's weight, for instance, were often commented on, although Rivers would never apologize for her humor.[70][71] Rivers, who was Jewish, was also criticized for making jokes about the Holocaust and later explained, "This is the way I remind people about the Holocaust. I do it through humor", adding, "my husband lost his entire family in the Holocaust."[72] Her joke about the victims of the Ariel Castro kidnappings similarly came under criticism, but she again refused to apologize,[73] stating, "I know what those girls went through. It was a little stupid joke."[74]

Rivers accepted such criticism as part of her using social satire as a form of humor: "I've learned to have absolutely no regrets about any jokes I've ever done ... You can tune me out, you can click me off, it's OK. I am not going to bow to political correctness. But you do have to learn, if you want to be a satirist, you can't be part of the party."[75]

Rivers states that seeing Lenny Bruce perform at a local club while she was in college influenced her developing style:

He was an epiphany. Lenny told the truth. It was a total affirmation for me that I was on the right track long before anyone said it to me. He supplied the revelation that personal truth can be the foundation of comedy, that outrageousness can be cleansing and healthy. It went off inside me like an enormous flash.[69]:608
Rivers performing in her show at the 2008 Edinburgh Festival Fringe

As an unknown stand-up comedian out of college, she struggled for many years before finding her comic style. She did stints in the Catskills and found that she disliked the older style of comedy at the time, such as Phyllis Diller's, whom she felt was a pioneer female comedian.[76] Her breakthrough came at The Second City in Chicago in 1961, where she was dubbed "the best girl since Elaine May," who also got her start there. But May became her and fellow comedian Treva Silverman's role model, as Rivers saw her as "an assertive woman with a marvelous, fast mind and, at the same time, pretty and feminine."[76] It was also there that she learned "self reliance," she said, "that I didn't have to talk down in my humor" and could still earn an income by making intelligent people laugh. "I was really born as a comedian at Second City. I owe it my career."[69]:607

In early 1965, at the suggestion of comedian Bill Cosby, Johnny Carson gave Rivers, whom he billed as a comedy writer, her debut appearance on his show.[77][78] Cosby, who knew Rivers from their early stand-up days, described her as "an intelligent girl without being a weirdo ... a human being, not a kook."[69]:596 Sitting alongside Johnny after her monologue, she displayed an intimate, conversational style which he appreciated, and she was invited back eight more times that year.[77]

Time magazine compared her humor to that of Woody Allen, by expressing "how to be neurotic about practically everything," but noting that "her style and femininity make her something special." Rivers also compared herself to Allen, stating: "He was a writer, which I basically was ... and talking about things that affected our generation that nobody else talked about."[69]:596 The New York Times critic Charles L. Mee likewise compared her to Allen, explaining that her "style was personal, an autobiographical stream-of-consciousness."[77]

Rivers' image contrasted starkly with Carson's stage demeanor, which was one of the reasons he made her co-host according to critic Michael Pollan, who compared their style of humor:

Where Carson is scrupulously polite, Rivers is bitchy; where he is low-key, she is overheated; where he is Midwest, Waspy and proper, she is urban, ethnic and gossipy. Carson conducts interviews as if he were at the country club; Rivers does hers at the kitchen table.[79]

In her personal life, she had fewer of those neurotic or intense character traits, according to Ralph Schoenstein, who dated her and worked with her on her humor books. He said, "She has no airs. She doesn't stand on ceremony. The woman has absolutely no pretense. She'll tell you everything immediately. Joan isn't cool—she's completely open. It's all grist. It's her old thing—'Can we talk?'"[69]:623

According to biographer Victoria Price, Rivers' humor was notable for taking aim at and overturning what had been considered acceptable female behavior. By her bravura she broke through long-standing taboos in humor, which paved the way for other women, including Roseanne Barr, Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O'Donnell.[80]

Personal life

Rivers was a member of the Reform synagogue Temple Emanu-El in New York City and said she "loved Israel."[81]

Rivers' first marriage was in 1955 to James Sanger, the son of a Bond Clothing Stores merchandise manager.[17][82] The marriage lasted six months[17][83] and was annulled on the basis that Sanger did not want children and had not informed Rivers before the wedding.[84]

Rivers married Edgar Rosenberg on July 15, 1965.[85] Their only child, Melissa Warburg Rosenberg, who goes by the name Melissa Rivers, was born on January 20, 1968. Joan Rivers had one grandson, Cooper, born Edgar Cooper Endicott in 2000.[86] Along with his mother and grandmother, Cooper was featured in the WE tv series Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?[87] Rosenberg committed suicide in 1987, shortly after Rivers announced her intention to separate.[88] Rivers would later describe her marriage to Rosenberg as a "total sham", complaining bitterly about his treatment of her during their 22-year marriage.[89] In a 2012 interview with Howard Stern, Rivers said she had several extramarital affairs when married to Rosenberg, including a one-night affair with actor Robert Mitchum in the 1960s and an affair with actor Gabriel Dell.[90]

In her book Bouncing Back (1997) Rivers described how she developed bulimia nervosa and contemplated suicide. Eventually she recovered with counseling and the support of her family.[91]

In 2002, Rivers told the Montreal Mirror that she was a Republican.[92] On January 28, 2014, during a conversation between Rivers and Reza Farahan of the Shahs of Sunset, Melissa Rivers interjected to clarify that she and her mother were "fiscally conservative, socially liberal" Republicans.[93]

Rivers was open about her multiple cosmetic surgeries and was a patient of plastic surgeon Steven Hoefflin, beginning in 1983. She had her nose thinned while still at college; her next procedure, an eye lift, was performed in 1965 (when she was in her thirties) as an attempt to further her career.[94][95] When promoting her book, Men Are Stupid ... And They Like Big Boobs: A Woman's Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery,[96] described by The New York Times Magazine as "a detailed and mostly serious guide to eye lifts, tummy tucks and other forms of plastic surgery", she quipped: "I've had so much plastic surgery, when I die they will donate my body to Tupperware."[97][98]


As a philanthropist, Rivers supported causes including HIV/AIDS activism,[16] and in May 1985, she appeared along with Nichols and May at a Comic Relief benefit for the new AIDS Medical Foundation in New York City, where tickets at the Shubert Theatre sold for as much as $500.[99] She supported the Elton John AIDS Foundation[100] and God's Love We Deliver, which delivers meals to HIV/AIDS patients in New York City.[101][102] In 2008, she was commended by the City of San Diego, California for her philanthropic work regarding HIV/AIDS, where the HIV/AIDS community called her their "Joan of Arc."[103]

Additionally, she served as an Honorary Director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.[101][104] She also supported Guide Dogs for the Blind, a non-profit organization which provides guide dogs to blind people.[101] She donated to Jewish charities, animal welfare efforts, and suicide prevention causes.[16] Among the other non-profit organizations she helped were Rosie's Theater Kids, Habitat for Humanity, Human Rights Campaign[100] and the Boy Scouts of America.[105]


On August 28, 2014, Rivers experienced serious complications and stopped breathing while undergoing what was scheduled as a minor throat procedure at an outpatient clinic in Yorkville, Manhattan.[106][107] Resuscitated an hour later, Rivers was transferred to the hospital and later put on life support.[108] She died on September 4 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, having never awoken from a medically induced coma.[109] The New York City Medical Examiner's Office said she died from brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen, and the details of her surgery would be investigated by officials.[110] Rivers was 81 years old.

After nearly two months of investigations, federal officials said on November 10 that the clinic made a number of mistakes both before and during the procedure. Among those were the clinic's failure to respond to Rivers' deteriorating vital signs, including a severe drop in her blood pressure, possibly administering an incorrect anesthetic dosage, performing a surgical procedure without her consent, and other medical-clinic irregularities.[111][112]

On September 7, after Rivers' cremation,[113] a private memorial service took place at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.[114][115] The service was attended by an estimated 1,500 people.[115] The guest list included Rivers' many celebrity friends, public figures and the New York City Gay Men's Chorus singing old show tunes.[114] Talk show host Howard Stern, delivering the eulogy, described Rivers as "brassy in public [and] classy in private ... a troublemaker, trail blazer, pioneer for comics everywhere, ... [who] fought the stereotypes that women can't be funny."[116] Daughter Melissa read a comedic note to her mother as part of her eulogy.[117]

On January 26, 2015, Melissa Rivers filed a malpractice lawsuit against the clinic and doctors performing surgery on her mother.[118] The suit was settled for an undisclosed amount in May 2016, with the doctors accepting responsibility.[119][120]

Reactions and tributes

Rivers in 1967

Upon Rivers' death, friends, fans, family and celebrities paid tribute.[121][122] Numerous comedians recognized Rivers influence on their career, including Kathy Griffin, who considered Rivers her "mentor," noting, "She brought a fearlessness and a brand of humor into our homes that we really need."[123] Chris Rock felt "she was the hippest comedian from the time she started to the day she died." Describing her as a force in comedy, he added, "No man ever said, 'Yeah, I want to go on after Joan.' No, Joan Rivers closed the show every night."[124] Other comedians recalled working with her on stage and television decades earlier: stand-up performer Don Rickles said "working with her and enjoying the fun times of life with her was special." While Carol Burnett calls Rivers "the poster child for the Energizer Bunny."[125]

Numerous talk show hosts, including Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Oprah Winfrey, Geraldo Rivera, Regis Philbin, Arsenio Hall, Ellen DeGeneres and David Letterman, paid tribute to Rivers, often including video clips of her appearances. Letterman called her a "real pioneer for other women looking for careers in stand-up comedy. And talk about guts."[126] Conan O'Brien discussed Rivers' legacy with fellow comedian Chris Hardwick on Conan, while Seth Meyers recalled Rivers' appearance on his talk show, saying, "I have not sat next to anyone who told more jokes faster than Joan Rivers did when she was here."[127] And on The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart noted her contributions: "There are very few people in my business that you can say are, or were, actually groundbreaking talents. Joan Rivers was one of them."[127] Radio host Howard Stern, who delivered her funeral eulogy, devoted an entire one-hour show to Rivers.[128] Sarah Silverman paid tribute to Rivers while hosting Saturday Night Live.[129] Long-time friend, comedienne, fellow talk show hostess and television personality Whoopi Goldberg tweeted: "My friend Joan Rivers has passed away," She said: "Once again to quote Billy Crystal ... There are no words."[130]

Political figures giving tribute to Rivers included former first lady Nancy Reagan, who had helped Rivers after the death of her husband, Edgar Rosenberg.[131] As a friend of Prince Charles, Rivers was one of only four Americans invited to his wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005. Upon hearing of her death, they said she was "utterly irreplaceable."[132] While Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that besides bringing laughter to millions of people around the world, she was "proud of her Jewish heritage."[133] After her mother's death, Melissa Rivers said she received a letter from President Barack Obama in which he wrote, despite being a frequent target of Rivers' jokes: "not only did she make us laugh, she made us think".[134]

Comedian Amy Schumer, speaking at the 2014 Glamour magazine "Woman of the Year Awards" ceremony in Carnegie Hall, paid tribute to Rivers, calling her the bravest female comedian.[135]



Rivers' first onscreen credit, in the obscure Hootenanny a Go-Go a.k.a. Once Upon a Coffeehouse (1965)


Year Title Notes
1965 Hootenanny a Go-Go a.k.a. Once Upon a Coffee House[136] As herself
1968 The Swimmer
1978 Rabbit Test Also director and writer
1981 Uncle Scam[137] As herself
1984 The Muppets Take Manhattan
1987 Les Patterson Saves the World
1987 Spaceballs Voice
1989 Look Who's Talking Voice
1993 Public Enemy Number Two[138]
1994 Serial Mom
1995 Napoleon Voice
1999 Goosed
2000 The Intern
2000 Whispers: An Elephant's Tale[138] Voice
2002 The Making and Meaning of 'We Are Family Documentary
2002 Hip! Edgy! Quirky!
2004 Shrek 2 Voice
2004 First Daughter
2006 Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women[138] Direct-to-DVD documentary[139]
2007 The Last Guy on Earth
2010 Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work Documentary; herself
2010 Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Uncredited
2011 The Smurfs Party Guest
2011 Tower Heist Cameo as herself[140]
2013 Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's[138] Documentary
2013 Iron Man 3 Cameo as herself
2014 Mostly Ghostly: Have You Met My Ghoulfriend? Grandma Doyle; final acting role
2014 The Story of the Swimmer[141] Direct-to-DVD documentary on The Swimmer Blu-ray/DVD


Year Title Notes
1968–69 That Show starring Joan Rivers Syndicated daytime talk show[31]
1972–77 The Electric Company Voice
1973 Here's Lucy Juror
1973 Needles and Pins Guest-starred as Eleanor Karp in episode "The Wife You Save May Be Your Own"
1984 An Audience with Joan Rivers
1986 Joan Rivers: Can We Talk? A BBC two series with 6 episodes.[142]
1986–87 The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers Host
1988 Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special[138]
1988–89 The New Hollywood Squares Hosted by John Davidson, center square
1989–93 The Joan Rivers Show Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show Host
1990 How to Murder a Millionaire Starred along with Morgan Fairchild
1992 Lady Boss
1994 Tears and Laughter: The Joan and Melissa Rivers Story[143]
1995–2014 Can We Shop?
1997 Another World Cast member
2001 E! True Hollywood Story: Joan Rivers Parody episode of show aired April 1, 2001[144]
2004, 2007 Jack Dee Live at the Apollo Cast member, guest host in 2007
2004 Dave the Barbarian Voice – Zonthara, Empress of Evil
2004–05, 2010 Nip/Tuck[145]
2004–06 The Joan Rivers Position
2006 An Audience with Joan Rivers
2006–07 8 Out of 10 Cats
2006 Joan Rivers: Before Melissa Pulls the Plug TV movie with Joan as Herself, comic Jeremy Blaine, and publicist Jordan Roberts
2006 Dawn French's Girls Who Do Comedy In-depth interview with Dawn French for the BBC
2007 Straight Talk
2008 Shrink Rap With Dr. Pamela Connolly – More
2008 Celebrity Family Feud
2008 Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack Celebrity Hijacker
2008 Z Rock Aunt Joan
2008 Spaceballs: The Animated Series Voice
2008, 2010 Arthur Voice – Bubby (Francine's Grandmother)
2009 Celebrity Apprentice 2 Herself
2009 How'd You Get So Rich? Herself
2009 The Comedy Central Roast of Joan Rivers Herself
2009 Celebrity Ghost Stories Herself
2010 Celebrity Apprentice 3
2010–14 Fashion Police
2011–14 Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?
2011 Louie Herself
2011 The Simpsons Voice – Annie Dubinsky (season 23, episode 8 – "The Ten-Per-Cent Solution")
2012 Drop Dead Diva[146] Herself
2012 Joan Rivers: Don't Start with Me
2012 Hot in Cleveland Anka
2012 E! True Hollywood Story: Joan and Melissa Rivers
2013 Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley[138] HBO documentary
2013–14 In Bed with Joan Online talk show

Theater work

Year Show Venue
1972 Fun City Morosco Theatre[147]
1988 Broadway Bound Broadhurst Theatre[148]
1994 Sally Marr...and her escorts Helen Hayes Theatre, Broadway
2008 Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress Geffen Playhouse, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Leicester Square Theatre
2012 Joan Rivers: The Now or Never Tour UK tour

Awards and nominations

Year Nominated work Award Category Result
1984 What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most? Grammy Award Best Comedy Album Nominated
1990 The Joan Rivers Show Daytime Emmy Award Outstanding Talk Show Host Won
1991 Nominated
1992 Outstanding Writing – Special Class Nominated
Outstanding Talk Show Host Nominated
1993 Outstanding Writing – Special Class Nominated
Outstanding Talk Show Host Nominated
1994 Sally Marr...and her escorts Tony Award Best Actress in a Play Nominated
2009 Arthur Daytime Emmy Award Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program Nominated
2015 Diary of a Mad Diva Grammy Award Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album Won

Note: Emmy nominations for Outstanding Writing – Special Class shared with Toem Perew and Hester Mundis.



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  46. Kurtz, Judy (September 4, 2014). "Gillibrand, Nancy Reagan mourn Joan Rivers' death". The Hill. Retrieved October 19, 2014. Rivers credited the former president's wife with helping her after the 1987 suicide of her second husband, Edgar Rosenberg. The comedy queen recalled the conversation with Reagan in a 2010 interview, "I said, 'I can't get Edgar's body out of Philadelphia.' She said, 'Let me see what I can do.' The next day, his body came back to L.A. You don't ever forget that, especially when the chips are down."
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  77. 1 2 3 Zoglin, Richard. Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-up in the 1970s Changed America, Bloomsbury Publishing (2008) e-book
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  83. Enter Talking, fourth page of photo inserts between pp. 182–183.
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  85. Enter Talking epilogue, p. 375.
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