Legendary comedian Joan Rivers, known for her acerbic wit, boundless energy and tenacious work ethic, has passed away at the age of 81. Rivers was a trailblazing performer and writer who redefined Hollywood and society's expectations for women.
Coming of age in an era where women were quickly making inroads in the workplace, Rivers forged her own road in the male-dominated world of comedy, breaking the glass ceiling of late night television by becoming the only permanent guest host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. She then went on to become the first and only woman to ever host her own late night network show, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers.
Multi-talented Rivers didn't limit her career to comedy -- she acted, wrote hugely successful books, hosted Fashion Police and Live from the Red Carpet on E!, and starred on the WeTV reality series Melissa and Joan: Joan Knows Best? with her daughter and ubiquitous sidekick.
Joan's dedication to her family, which also included Melissa's son Cooper, was apparent on the reality series, and her web site bio describes her love for her family: "Above all, Joan [was] a proud mother and grandmother."
Joan was born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in Brooklyn on June 8, 1933. She was educated at uppercrust institutions Connecticut College and Barnard College, graduating from Barnard in 1954 with a degree in English Literature.
She was married briefly in 1955 to James Sanger, but the marriage was later annulled. She later wed Edgar Rosenberg in 1965, the father of daughter Melissa, who committed suicide in 1987. She never married again. She joked of her nearly 30-year single status, "It's been so long since I've had sex I've forgotten who ties up who."
Joan started her career doing standup in small clubs, before getting her big break in 1968 appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Before long, she was hosting her own daytime talk show, That Show with Joan Rivers.
In 1986, FOX offered Rivers The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, which had a short run but ultimately was the demise of her friendship with Carson. She later revealed that the host never spoke to her again after that. She only returned to The Tonight Show, now starring Jimmy Fallon, in 2014 for the first time in decades.
Joan returned to daytime television in 1989 with her talk show, The Joan Rivers Show, for which she was awarded an Emmy.
She never kept much about her life secret, but fans got an intimate glimpse of the comedienne in the 2010 documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Joan got candid about her insecurities in the film, and acknowledged her mortality, sharing, "Age -- it's the one mountain that you can't overcome." She also spoke openly on her famous penchant for plastic surgery, saying, "I started with the plastic surgery, then I became the poster girl for it, then I became the joke of it."
Joan's other accomplishments are many. During her lifetime, she created and performed in many stage performances, both on and off Broadway, and was Tony-nominated. She penned 11 books, the latest of which, Diary of a Mad Diva, debuted on July 1, 2014 at No. 7 on the New York Times hardcover non-fiction list. She also won the 2009 season of NBC's Celebrity Apprentice and launched a popular QVC clothing, jewelry and accessories line. In her spare time, she was involved with philanthropy, working with the charities, God's Love We Deliver, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Guide Dogs for the Blind, the National Osteoporosis Foundation, Wounded Warriors and more.
In her later years, Joan didn't let her octogenarian status keep her on the couch, or stop her from using modern technology to communicate with fans. She tweeted regularly to more than 2 million followers and continued doing standup right up until her death.
Joan's success across media rested on her unmatched candor, brash persona, and of course, her humor. Joan's own words summed up her appeal best. She said of her allure, "I succeeded by saying what everyone else is thinking."
Rivers is survived by daughter Melissa, 46, and grandson Cooper, 13.
Check out the heartfelt look back at her life, below:
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