Joan Rivers, the raucous, acid-tongued comedian who crashed the male-dominated realm of late-night talk shows and turned Hollywood red carpets into danger zones for badly dressed celebrities, died Thursday. She was 81.
Rivers was hospitalized last week after she went into cardiac arrest at a Manhattan doctor’s office following a routine procedure. Daughter Melissa Rivers said she died surrounded by family and close friends.
Joan Rivers carved a niche for herself in stand-up at a time when it wasn’t just difficult-it was unheard of. It was still pretty brutal for women in the business by the time I got to it decades later so I can’t even imagine what it was like when there weren’t any other women doing it.
I remember watching her guest-host on The Tonight Show back in the halcyon days before her legendary falling out with Johnny Carson. She was fearless on stage. In fact, were she starting out today doing the same kind of humor, being female wouldn’t be as much of an obstacle but the PC Speech Police would be apoplectic about her material (she frequently did “Liz Taylor is so fat…” jokes when subbing for Carson).
She had killer timing, which was still on display when doing her fashion critiques of red carpet celebs in recent years. While I wasn’t exactly a fan of the genre, I would still watch on occasion to hear the old girl being effortlessly, humorously and brilliantly caustic.
Some of my closest friends after thirty years in stand-up are female comics I’ve worked with. I know I would never had met them if it weren’t for Joan Rivers.
Rest in peace, dear lady.
And say hi to Liz Taylor.