Hollywood is mourning the death of Joan Rivers, who died on Thursday, Sept. 4; her daughter Melissa confirmed the star’s passing in a statement to Us Weekly. The comedienne and Fashion Police host was 81 years old.
“It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers,” the statement read. “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.”
She continued: “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 been hospitalized at New York City’s Mount Sinai since Thursday, Aug. 28, when she stopped breathing while undergoing an outpatient procedure on her vocal cords. After being admitted in critical condition that morning, she was placed in a medically induced coma.
Her daughter, Melissa, provided updates throughout her hospitalization, revealing on Sept. 2 that the star was on life support. “I know my mother would be overwhelmed by the continued outpouring of kindness, and I want to thank everyone for keeping us in their prayers,” Melissa said at the time.
Born Joan Molinsky on June 8, 1933, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Rivers was the youngest daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. Recalling her childhood in a piece for New York Magazine last year, she wrote that she used to save up her money and visit Sardi’s in the Theater District, where she’d “order an avocado for 60 cents and wait to be discovered.” Manhattan, she mused, “was Oz,” and all she wanted “was to get out of Brooklyn and get into Oz.” She got her wish when she attended school on the Upper West Side, at the all-female Barnard College, where she studied English and anthropology.
“If I weren’t in show business, I would definitely be an anthropologist,” she told Us Weekly back in 2011, as part of her 25 Things You Don’t Know About Me interview. “Anthropology was my minor in college. But I would need to take a hairdresser and a makeup man on the digs with me,” she joked.
A comic legend and pioneer, Rivers first rose to fame in the 1960s, when she appeared on various late-night and variety shows, including The Tonight Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Carol Burnett Show. It was around that time that she headlined her first program, That Show With Joan Rivers.
After That Show‘s end in 1969, she continued to appear on other people’s shows, and also tried her hand at behind-the-scenes work. In 1978, she wrote and directed the movie Rabbit Test, starring Billy Crystal and Doris Roberts.
Her biggest break, though, came in 1983, when Tonight Show host Johnny Carson appointed her his regular guest host, making Rivers the first female late-night host in TV. Carson was something of a mentor to Rivers, but they had a falling-out when she left to do her own show on Fox, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, in 1986. She was not invited back to The Tonight Show until this year, when Jimmy Fallon took over from Jay Leno.
Alas, her stint on The Late Show lasted just one season, until the spring of 1987. After it ended, she appeared on several episodes of The New Hollywood Squares before going on to host a daytime program, The Joan Rivers Show, from 1989 to 1993. During that time, she won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Talk/Service Show Host, and earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Later in the ’90s, she made a name for herself as a red carpet correspondent, hosting E!’s Live From the Red Carpet segments before the Grammys, Oscars, and other major awards shows, where she used her trademark line — “Can we talk?” — to engage with fellow celebs about who and what they were wearing. That paved the way for the snarky style show Fashion Police, which launched in 2010.
In recent years, Rivers also starred on various reality shows, including Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? and NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, which she won in season two in 2009.
Throughout it all, she continued to do stand-up and stage work, earning a Best Actress Tony Award nomination in 1994 for the Broadway play Sally Marr…and Her Escorts. She also recorded multiple comedy albums, including 1983’s Grammy-nominated What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most?.
Rivers was a best-selling author, too, and wrote several books including Enter Talking, Murder at the Academy Awards, I Hate Everyone…Starting With Me, and Diary of a Mad Diva, which was released in July of this year.
In her personal life, Rivers was married twice, first to James Sanger and then to Edgar Rosenberg. Her marriage to Sanger was annulled shortly after the wedding; her marriage to Rosenberg (her manager as well as her husband) lasted from 1965 until his suicide in 1987, just a few months after she was fired from her Fox show.
In the decades following his death, Rivers became an advocate for suicide prevention, speaking openly and often about her grief and anger. “I lecture on suicide because things turn around,” she told The Daily Beast in July, admitting she once considered taking her own life after her husband died. “I tell people this is a horrible, awful dark moment, but it will change and you must know it’s going to change, and you push forward. I look back and think, ‘Life is great, life goes on.'”
Rivers and Rosenberg had one daughter together, Melissa, with whom the star was very close. They collaborated on several big projects, including Live From the Red Carpet, The Apprentice, Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?, and a made-for-TV movie about their relationship after Rosenberg’s death, Tears and Laughter: The Joan and Melissa Rivers Story. In later years, they frequently did joint interviews, during which they’d banter back and forth about the perks and pitfalls of their unshakable bond.
“I was a great mother to Melissa,” the comedienne told Us in her 25 Things chat. “I don’t have much of an ego for a lot of things…but the one thing that I was good at was [being a mother], because the moment I had Melissa, my child came ahead of my career.”
Rivers prioritized her relationship with Melissa’s son, too. As seen in the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, her grandson Cooper, now 13, accompanied her on annual Thanksgiving runs for God’s Love We Deliver, which provides meals for those who are too sick to feed themselves. The pair also went on regular trips around the world together, just the two of them.
“When my grandson was born, I insisted, with the other grandmother, on having ‘Grandma Weeks,'” she explained to Us in 2011. “Each of us would get him for a week, and nobody could tell us where we were taking him or what we were gonna do. It has turned out to be a great adventure for me.”
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