Joan Rivers Dies at Age 81

Fans are mourning the loss of a groundbreaking (and hilarious) entertainer. 

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Joan Rivers has died at the age of 81.

Her daughter, Melissa Rivers, released the following statement:

The comedian was taken to Mt. Sinai Hospital last week after going into cardiac arrest during a routine procedure at Yorkville Endoscopy on the Upper East Side. She was placed on life support this week, before being moved out of the ICU earlier Wednesday.

A prolific television presence, Rivers created and hosted Live from the Red Carpet for the E! Network from 1996 to 2004, and later returned to anchor Fashion Police, during which she doled out biting critiques of celebrity style.

But before her multimillion dollar deal with the entertainment network, Rivers dominated talk shows and bookshelves with her comedy work. Born in Brooklyn as Joan Alexandra Molinsky, Rivers took her stage name in the late 1950s, doing stand-up and small plays in dingy clubs and cafes in New York City. She became an overnight sensation after a magnetic guest appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1965, which led to appearances on other '60s favorites like The Ed Sullivan Show as well as her own daytime talk show, That Show with Joan Rivers.

By the 1970s and 80s, however, Rivers began leaving the talk show circuit. She penned the TV movie The Girl Most Likely to..., wrote and directed the Billy Crystal starrer Rabbit Test, landed a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live in 1983, and even garnered a Grammy Award nomination for her comedy album What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most?

The period also saw her struggle with the spotlight. She battled rival comic Frank Marino for using her material, and more important, lost her friendship with Carson, whom she had always regarded as a mentor since her breakout appearance on his show. In 1986, she began her own late night talk show, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, directly competing with Carson, and the latter reportedly felt slighted for not being told of her move. The controversy would follow Rivers for decades — she was barred from appearing on The Tonight Show until she finally made an appearance on host Jimmy Fallon's first episode in February 2014.

Even amid struggling relationships and devastating tragedies — Rivers' husband Edgar Rosenberg committed suicide in 1987 — Rivers never shied from the spotlight, or from her piercing comedy. She successfully helmed another talk show, The Joan Rivers Show, and won a Daytime Emmy. As she entered her later career in the 2000s, she also became an enigmatic presence on television: Turn on QVC, and there she was, promoting her line of jewelry. Turn on E! or TV Guide, and there she was again, gabbing away with stars from the A-List to the F. She even played herself on FX's Nip/Tuck, was a regular guest on Howard Stern's radio show, and brought her daughter Melissa in tow for the second season of Celebrity Apprentice in 2009.

Indeed, Rivers and the spotlight were made for each other. When accused of making insensitive remarks, Rivers would simply discuss it further on a talk show or put it in writing in her countless bestselling books — the most recent, Diary of a Mad Diva, was just published this year. Her ubiquity in the Hollywood circuit was unmatched. And after four decades in the business, Rivers understood the mantra "the show must go on" better than anyone.

A funeral will be held for Rivers on Sept. 7.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.