Comedian Joan Rivers dies at 81
TORONTO — Joan Rivers, the raspy-voiced comedian known for her trademark “Can we talk?,” died Thursday in New York City. She was 81.
Rivers was moved out of intensive care on Wednesday after a week in a medically-induced coma.
“It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers,” daughter Melissa said in a statement.
“She passed peacefully at 1:17 pm surrounded by family and close friends.”
Melissa added: “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 rushed to Mount Sinai Medical Center Aug. 29 after she stopped breathing during throat surgery at a clinic.
A 911 call said a patient at Yorkville Endoscopy on East 93rd Street was “in either cardiac or respiratory arrest.”
On Sunday, Rivers’ daughter Melissa said in a statement: “We are keeping our fingers crossed.”
In a 2010 interview with New York magazine, the comedian said she often thought about her own death.
“I make deals with God all the time. ‘Give me 10 more good years and I’ll call it a day,'” Rivers said.
“I feel amazing. I truly feel like I am 25. I walk everywhere. There’s nothing wrong with me. The mind is going better than ever.”
A pillow in her home study was embroidered with the message: “Don’t expect praise without envy until you are dead.”
In her 2012 memoir, Rivers wrote: “When I die I want my funeral to be a huge showbiz affair with lights and cameras and action. I want it to be Hollywood all the way. Don’t give me some rabbi rambling on. I want Meryl Streep crying in five different accents.
“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. I want a wind machine so strong that even in the casket my hair will be blowing more than Beyonce’s on stage.”
Rivers was open about her addiction to cosmetic surgery and claimed to have had more than 700 procedures over the past five decades.
“Every weekend I just go in and I do something,” she joked to Anderson Cooper in 2012. “I get a 10th one free. It’s a little like coffee.”
In her 1997 book Bouncing Back, she revealed battles with bulimia and thoughts of suicide.
Rivers, who was born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in New York, worked at various jobs before she started her stand-up career in the 1960s.
She made her television debut on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar and went on to make countless appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
“The Tonight Show changed my life. After eight years of people saying I was too rough, Carson said ‘You’re going to be a star’ and it changed my life,” she told The Columbus Dispatch in 2012.
But in 1986, when she signed on for her own late night talk show on Fox, Rivers’ relationship with Carson fell apart.
Rivers did not return to The Tonight Show until last February, when she made a cameo on Jimmy Fallon’s debut episode.
Rivers tried her luck as host of several talk shows: That Show in 1968 and The Late Show starring Joan Rivers in 1986. Her work on The Joan Rivers Show, which ran from 1989 to 1993, earned her a Daytime Emmy Award.
She went on to earn four more Daytime Emmy nominations.
BELOW: Watch Joan Rivers perform stand-up in 1982.
From the early ’80s until her death, Rivers was ubiquitous on television, including game shows (The New Hollywood Squares, Celebrity Family Feud); reality competition series (Celebrity Apprentice, Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack); and her own reality shows (Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?).
After years of covering award-show red carpets for E! and TV Guide Channel, Rivers was named host of the E!’s Fashion Police specials.
Rivers launched an online talk show In Bed with Joan last year.
Rivers had small roles in a number of movies during her career and lent her voice to characters in 1987’s Spaceballs, 1989’s Look Who’s Talking and 2004’s Shrek 2.She showed up in last year’s blockbuster Iron Man 3, for which she got an MTV Movie Awards nomination for Best Cameo.
The comedian said producers of her 2010 documentary A Piece of Work were hoping she would die during filming.
“Can you imagine? It would have been gold,” she told a reporter. “They would have got Joan Rivers’ last interview.”
Rivers published a dozen books during her life, including the recent Diary of a Mad Diva.
She also recorded several comedy albums — including the Grammy nominated What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most? in 1984 — and toured extensively.
Rivers was honoured in 1989 with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Rivers was no stranger to Canada. She performed stand-up concerts from coast to coast — including several appearances at Montreal’s Just For Laughs comedy festival — and made frequent trips to Toronto to promote her line of jewellery, clothing and cosmetics on The Shopping Channel.
Her no-holds-barred comedy often landed Rivers in hot water.
“If you laugh at it, you can deal with it, and if you don’t, you can’t deal with it. Don’t start telling me that I shouldn’t be saying it,” she told New York in 2010. “That’s the way I do it.”
Earlier this month, Rivers told TMZ that Palestinian civilians “deserve to be dead.” She later tweeted that the comment was taken out of context.
The comedian had a quickly-annuled marriage to James Sanger in 1955 and was married to Edgar Rosenberg for 22 years. He died by suicide in 1987.
Rivers’ sister Barbara Waxler died in June 2013. She was 82.
Rivers is survived by daughter Melissa, 46, and grandson Edgar Cooper Endicott, 13.
A funeral will be held Sunday at Temple Emanu-El in New York.
Asked to pick her own epitaph, Rivers told The Columbus Dispatch in 2012: “Probably ‘I’ve had a great ride. And I’m still on it!”
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