Can we talk?
The younger set may only know Joan as the plastic-faced, snark-fuelled granny who expertly ripped into celebrity outfits, and may rightfully wonder what the fuss at her passing is about. The Joan Rivers of my memory is the petite, squeaky-voiced comedienne in those loud, shoulder-padded blazers, hosting The Tonight Show when Johnny was away. I took it completely for granted that this brassy, acidic, and hilarious woman sat in that chair—of course she did! The late-night wars and her subsequent feud with Johnny when she went to Fox to host her own ill-fated show (as well as many of the jokes), went over my 9-year-old head. But I knew she was amazingly fun to watch, and to me represented something I wanted to be—a sparkling, dazzlingly funny woman.
How she got to sit in that chair was 20 years of hard scrabble (and some would say good management by husband Edgar Rosenberg), and like many great comics, having the courage to talk about things we “shouldn’t” talk about, like this early stand up on the Ed Sullivan Show.
In the late 1980s, reeling from her husband’s suicide and her late-night career failure, Joan Rivers was nearly relegated permanently to the “Where Are They Now?” folder, but instead she reinvented the persona she died with—a showbiz savvy, say-anything comic who was brutally honest about her own life and her face’s relationship with the plastic surgeon.
She gave instructions for her funeral in her recent book, I Hate Everyone (Starting With Me):
“When I die (and yes, Melissa, that day will come; and yes, Melissa, everything's in your name), I want my funeral to be a huge showbiz affair with lights, cameras, action…. I want Craft Services, I want paparazzi and I want publicists making a scene! I want it to be Hollywood all the way. I don't want some rabbi rambling on; I want Meryl Streep crying, in five different accents. I don't want a eulogy; I want Bobby Vinton to pick up my head and sing Mr. Lonely.
"I want to look gorgeous, better dead than I do alive. I want to be buried in a Valentino gown and I want Harry Winston to make me a toe tag. And I want a wind machine so that even in the casket my hair is blowing just like Beyoncé's."
Joan Rivers passed away in New York at the age of 81. She was hospitalized after she stopped breathing during a procedure at a day surgery clinic.
See Joan hard at work and enjoy some of her later work in the excellent documentary made on the occasion of her 75th birthday: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.
Did Joan really have over 700 plastic surgery procedures? We covered that in Mummy Buzz.