Joan Rivers, at her best: on stage (Click photo to enlarge).
Today, one year ago, Joan Rivers (Joan Alexandra Molinsky) died on Wednesday, September 4, 2014. In late August, Rivers had gone in for vocal cord surgery because of respiratory problems. Her health declined even further after experiencing cardiac arrest during the procedure. She eventually succumbed to these major complications.
Joan Rivers, born in Brooklyn, New York, 1933, was a mother, a wife, an actor of film, television and theater. She was a writer, producer and television show host. A pioneer and model for talented women who were willing to work (hard) to have the careers they always wanted and not let any man get in their way. She was also an avid philanthropist and one of the first, prominent celebrity HIV/AIDS activists.
Joan Rivers host Johnny Carson (Click photo to enlarge).
First and foremost, she was a stand-up comedian. Rivers was one of the most successful comics ever, and not just of her own gender. We talk of women who break the glass ceilings of male-dominated industries. Joan was one of them, one of those game-changers who infiltrated and dominated the male fraternity of comedy.
This little old lady, with a face like a catcher’s mitt from her extensive cosmetic surgeries, was still legitimately funny as an octogenarian. The workaholic and professional entertainer was still relevant at the end of her life.
Joan Rivers (Click photo to enlarge).
As much as she roasted the culture icons around her -she was just as self-deprecating. There weren’t any sacred cows and any subjects that were considered taboo. After all, they were just jokes. She was a refreshing throwback in our day and age. Especially, in our current condition which is mired in political correctness, extreme sensitivity and backtracking-apology-culture. In a time where comedians are ludicrously held to the standards of politicians. She was a brash, brassy broad, in the best and worst possible ways, she said what was on her mind, said it loud and proud and shouldered the consequences as they came. Joan Rivers was honest, unwavering and unapologetic.
Joan Rivers began doing stand-up in nightclubs in the 1950s and immediately stood out because of her bold and irreverent comedy style. She was also in ‘Second City’ in Chicago. In 1965, she had a major breakthrough with her appearance on ‘The Tonight Show’ starring Johnny Carson. A comedy kingmaker, Johnny Carson, was instantly smitten with River’s wit and charisma and took her under his wing. Eventually, Carson would go on to have her occasionally guest host when he was on vacation. The episodes she hosted were events, in of themselves, and would usually surpass Carson’s viewership. In 1967, she appeared on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’. There were the numerous appearances on ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ in the ’70s. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she hosted her own show, ‘The Joan Rivers Show’.
Joan Rivers (Click photo to enlarge).
She was dealt a major blow when her husband Edgar Robinson fell into deep depression after a heart attack and committed suicide in 1987. Although a dark time, her husband’s passing inspired a reunion with their formerly estranged daughter, Melissa. She won an Emmy for Best Talk Show Host (Daytime) in 1990. During this time, she became a Las Vegas headliner and an outright television star in her own right.
If as she grew older Rivers developed a reputation for being more mean than funny, in recent months, she was criticized for, among other things, her remarks regarding Adele’s weight, Palestinians and the Holocaust. Nothing was sacred. On her husband’s suicide: “After Edgar killed himself, I went out to dinner with Melissa. I looked at the menu and said, ‘If Daddy were here to see these prices, he’d kill himself all over again”. Rivers made a name dishing dirt on celebs as her critics deemed her, “Caustic, cruel, mean, nasty, offensive, acidic, acerbic, shocking, raunchy and racy.” We would call her a fucking gangsta. No fucks were given by Joanie. Her scathing riffs on pop idols were hilarious. Her current show, E!’s Fashion Police, was a popular one and was a platform to unload her verbal haymakers and nuclear bombs on the Hollywood elite. Haters gonna hate but Joan did it in endearing and clever ways, so we couldn’t fault her for it. In fact, we loved it. Her comedy was brutally honest, demanding, critical and confrontational, with tag lines like “Oh, grow up!” and “Can we talk?
Joan Rivers at home (Click photo to enlarge).
A documentary, ‘Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work’ directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, came out in 2010. By then she had weathered 50 years in show business, appeared in thousands of TV shows, more than a dozen films and many nightclubs; written 12 books, raised millions for causes, including AIDS, Guide Dogs for the Blind and Cystic Fibrosis; and amassed about $290 million.
Joan Rivers: ‘A Piece of Work’ poster. The documentary can be watched on Netflix.
(Click photo to enlarge)
The 81-year-old comedienne, included some characteristically breezy thoughts in her 2012 book, ‘I Hate Everyone … Starting With Me’.
On page 54, in a chapter entitled ‘Death Be Not Proud’, she conjures up a game plan for the surreal scenario. The paragraph is addressed to her daughter, Melissa Rivers. The book excerpt, perhaps fittingly, began to trend on social media in the hours after her death.
“When I die (and, yes, Melissa, that day will come; and, yes, Melissa, everything’s in your name), I want my funeral to be a huge showbiz affair with lights, cameras, action….I want Craft services, I want paparazzi and I want publicists making a scene! I want it to be Hollywood all the way. I don’t want some rabbi rambling on; I want Meryl Streep crying, in five different accents. I don’t want a eulogy; I want Bobby Vinton to pick up my head and sing “Mr. Lonely.” I want to look gorgeous, better dead than I do alive. I want to be buried in a Valentino gown and I want Harry Winston to make me a toe tag. And I want a wind machine so that even in the casket my hair is blowing just like Beyonce’s”
As we said goodbye to the Queen of Snark, we still mourn the passing of a pioneer, a comedy genius and a Hollywood/New York legend. Joan Rivers is still missed.
by Jean Amr