Controversial, whip-cracking comedian Joan Rivers has passed away at the age of 81, news that was confirmed by her daughter Melissa on Thursday.
“It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers,” Melissa Rivers said in a statement (Mashable). “She passed peacefully at 1:17 p.m. surrounded by family and close friends… 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 was hospitalized in August after going into cardiac arrest in a doctor’s office in New York City, where she was undergoing throat surgery. She was placed into a medically induced coma, and there had been no further updates on her condition until today.
Rivers began her career in 1959 at the age of 26, first appearing in a play called Driftwood with Barbara Streisand. She hopped on the happening scene of New York City’s Greenwich Village in the 1960’s, performing in comedy clubs and coffeeshops in the city’s exploding counter-culture and arts scene, bringing her act to famous venues like The Bitter End and the Gaslight Cafe.
She would graduate to become one of America’s most famous stand-up acts and television hosts, gaining fame as a sub-host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and then with her own The Late Show with Joan Rivers, as well as her years hosting the red carpet television segments from the Oscars.
She hosted the show Fashion Police from 2010 until this past April, and her own webcast In Bed With Joan since 2013.
Rivers was a pioneer for female comedians – especially for those who weren’t afraid to tell a dirty or controversial joke. Or two.
From Mashable’s Sandra Gonzalez (link above):
“Rivers fed on the shocked reactions when she’d tell jokes about abortion and other taboo subjects. Later, her love of plastic surgery also became fodder. ‘I’ve had so much plastic surgery,’ she joked once, ‘when I die they’ll donate my body to Tupperware.’
“Even her husband’s suicide in 1987 was not off limits. Years later – post-Celebrity Apprentice and pre-Fashion Police – Rivers explained this approach to NPR, saying she always found strength in laughter. ‘If you can laugh about it, you can live with it,’ she said.”
That attitude garnered her criticism, of course, but Rivers staunchly stood behind her jokes and her belief that she was addressing sensitive subjects in her own way, through her comedy. (In December, Salon writer Daniel D’Addario wrote that although she “had to fight, hard, to make it in an industry that’s not particularly genial to women,” her comedically intended attacks against several starlets – for their weight, ethnicity, or fashion – was making “life harder for other women.”)
“I’ve learned to have absolutely no regrets about any jokes I’ve ever done,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2013. “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.”