Thursday 17 January 2019

Exit Joan Rivers, queen of quippy one-liners and the bitchiest put-downs

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 yesterday. She was 81.

Her daughter, Melissa Rivers, said: "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 had insults ready for all races, genders and creeds.

During a long career she moved from long-time targets such as the weight problems of Elizabeth Taylor, of whom she said "her favourite food is seconds", to newer foes such as Miley Cyrus, and continued to appear on stage and on TV into her 80s.


Comedy was not only her calling but her therapy, as she turned her life inside out for laughs, mocking everything from her proclaimed lack of sex appeal ("My best birth control now is just to leave the lights on") to her own mortality.

"I have never wanted to be a day less than I am," she insisted in a 2013 interview. "People say 'I wish I were 30 again'. Nahhh! I'm very happy here. It's great. It gets better and better. And then, of course, we die."

With her red-carpet query "Who are you wearing?", the raspy-voiced blonde with the brash New York accent also helped patent pre-awards commentary - and the snarky criticism that often accompanies it, like cracking that Adele's Grammy wardrobe made the singer look like she was sitting on a teapot.

Rivers slammed actors at the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes for E! Entertainment.

In 2007, she found new success on E! with Fashion Police, which she hosted and her daughter Melissa produced. She faced true crisis in the mid-1980s. Edgar Rosenberg, her husband of 23 years, take his life in 1987 after she was fired from her Fox talk show, which he produced.

The show's failure was a major factor, Rivers said. Rosenberg's suicide also temporarily derailed her career.

"Nobody wants to see someone whose husband has killed himself do comedy four weeks later," she told The New York Times in 1990.

Rivers originally entered showbusiness with the dream of being an actress, but comedy was a way to pay the bills while she auditioned for dramatic roles.

"Somebody said 'You can make six dollars standing up in a club' and I said 'Here I go!'. It was better than typing all day," she said.

In the early 1960s comedy was a man's game and the only women comics she could look to were Totie Fields and Phyllis Diller.

But she worked her way up from local clubs in New York until, in 1965, she landed her big break on The Tonight Show after numerous rejections.

Her nightclub career prospered and her personal life picked up as well: she met British producer Rosenberg and they married after a four-day courtship.

Rivers hosted a morning talk show on NBC in 1968 and, the following year, made her Las Vegas debut with female comedians still a relative rarity.


In 1983 she scored a coup when she was named permanent guest host for Carson on Tonight. Although she drew good ratings, NBC hesitated in renewing her contract three years later.

Fledgling network Fox jumped in with an offer of her own late-night show.

She launched The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers on Fox in 1986, but the venture lasted only one season.

It took two years to get her career going again, and then she did not stop. Rivers appeared at clubs and on TV shows including Hollywood Squares.

She appeared on Broadway and released more comedy albums and books, most recently Diary Of A Mad Diva.

In recent years, Rivers won the reality show Celebrity Apprentice by beating poker champion Annie Duke.

In 2010 she was featured in the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work.

She is survived by her daughter Melissa and a grandson, Edgar Cooper.


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