Comedienne Joan Rivers Dead at 81

Updated: Pushed the boundaries of comedy by saying 'what everyone thinks'
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Comedienne Joan Rivers died on Thursday, her daughter Melissa Rivers said in a statement. She was 81.

Rivers was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan last week after going into cardiac arrest during throat surgery.

The E! Fashion Police host, who was the first female to break into late night TV with her appointment as guest host of The Tonight Show in the 1980s, was undergoing a procedure on her vocal cords at Yorkville Endoscopy, which is now under investigation, when the complication occurred.

She had reportedly been on life support since being admitted to Mount Sinai on Aug. 28.

Melissa, who appeared with her mother on multiple reality projects and produced Fashion Police, released the following statement: “It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother. She passed peacefully at 1:17 p.m. surrounded by family and close friends. My son and I would like to thank the doctors, nurses, and staff of Mount Sinai Hospital for the amazing care they provided for my mother.

"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.”

Born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in Brooklyn, Rivers burst onto the comedy scene in the 1960s, performing in NYC comedy clubs before making several guest appearances — including The Jack Paar Program and The Sammy Davis, Jr. Show — and then landing a spot on Girl Talk, an early predecessor to the morning talk show.

Early on in her career she clicked with Johnny Carson — though the two had a complicated relationship — appearing as a guest on his Tonight Show dozens of times and, eventually, as a permanent guest host.

TV newcomer Fox came courting in 1986 pulling Rivers away from Carson and NBC to headline her own late night talker, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers. The gamble, which resulted in the lasting enmity of Carson and NBC, didn’t pay off for the comedienne and she was fired from the network along with her husband and show producer Edgar Rosenberg the following year. Rosenberg, who suffered from clinical depression and was devastated over the show’s failure, committed suicide on Aug. 14, 1987.

"I've had so many losses the past few years," she told People magazine in a 1990 article. "Where do you want to start? The past two years I've lost the two most important men in my life—Edgar and Johnny Carson. They're both gone. One was my life, the other was my career. Edgar was dead, and I was left for dead."

The decades-long ban on The Tonight Show and the Peacock Network ended earlier this year, though, when newly minted host Jimmy Fallon invited her to appear.

“Here’s a woman, a real pioneer for other women looking for careers in stand-up comedy,” said David Letterman during Thursday's taping of the Late Show With David Letterman. “And talk about guts – she would come out here and sit in this chair and say some things that were unbelievable, just where you would have to swallow pretty hard… but it was hilarious… the force of her comedy was overpowering.”

Her struggles both personally and professionally perhaps pushed her comedy to the brink of impropriety and contributed to her success.

"I tell the truth," she said. "I say not only what I think, but what everyone thinks."

Rivers landed another talk show gig soon after. The daytime talker The Joan Rivers Show ran from 1989 to 1993, and garnered the comedienne her first and only Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host.

E! and NBCUniversal released the following statement: “E! and NBCUniversal send our deepest condolences to Melissa, Cooper and her entire extended family on this incredibly sad day. For decades Joan has made people laugh, shattered glass ceilings and revolutionized comedy. She was unapologetic and fiercely dedicated to entertaining all of us and has left an indelible mark on the people that worked with her and on her legions of fans. She’s been a much beloved member of the E! family for over 20 years and the world is less funny without her in it. Today our hearts are heavy knowing Joan will not be bounding through the doors.”

Rivers’ brand of comedy expanded beyond talkers, reality shows and standup. The brash blonde wrote plays and multiple books and even had her own line of jewelry for QVC.

In her 80s, the comedienne showed no signs of slowing down and kept a busy schedule of tapings, appearances and standup as she continued to hone her craft.

“Nobody wants a carbon copy,” she said in an interview with Makers earlier this year.”You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing.”

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