One week after being rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York after suffering from cardiac arrest during a vocal chord surgery, comedian, feminist, fashion icon, actress, TV host, and trailblazer Joan Rivers passed away. She was 81 years old.
The news was just announced this afternoon, with Rivers’ only daughter Melissa confirming that her mother died today at 1:17 pm.
It’s been a tough year for comedians, with acting legend Robin Williams passing away in August. Since his death, tributes from A-list celebrities have been popping up everywhere, with a special presentation for Williams delivered by Billy Crystal at last week’s Emmy Awards. Williams graces the cover of next month’s Rolling Stone Magazine, a fitting tribute to a man who has made so many people laugh over the years.
But let’s not forget about Joan Rivers.
Rivers has been a staple in the entertainment world for six decades. Her career got its biggest boost from her time on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, which she auditioned for seven times. After a comedian who appeared the same night as Bill Cosby bombed, Cosby suggested the booker use Rivers, since she couldn’t be worse than the comedian that had appeared that night. That was the beginning.
Carson loved Joan and she became the first permanent fill-in host for The Tonight Show, a huge feat for any comedian, let alone a woman in the 1980s. She was the first female comedian to perform at Carnegie Hall and the first woman to have her own late night talk show.
Where there was no path, Rivers forged ahead, making millions laugh with every step of the battle. She was the first person to stand on a red carpet and ask ‘Who are you wearing’ and then turn around and give hilarious remarks with insightful comments only a true fashion icon could deliver.
It is without question that Rivers was a trailblazer for female comedians and entertainers, but really, she’s been a trailblazer for all those in the entertainment industry.
She created brands. She was nominated for a Tony for her work on Broadway. In 2014, she juggled weekly episodes of the Fashion Police and her online show In Bed With Joan, all while continuing to tour as a stand-up comedian. She was nominated for Grammys, Emmys, wrote 12 books, starred in countless films and TV shows and dominated every medium she tried her hand at.
Not only did Rivers accomplish more in her career than most people can ever dream of, she did it with very little help. Female comedians on TV are still hugely outnumbered by men, a statistic that was even more staggering when Rivers began her career in the mid 1960s.
Famous for her plastic surgeries, Rivers did everything she could to appear young in a society that discriminates against aging, only to turn around and vilify those who attempt to heed to unrealistic standards. It is still a man’s world in entertainment, a point that if you forgot, what brutally driven home this week by the leaking of nude pics of famous actresses. Joan fought the uphill battle until the very end.
Would there be a Fashion Police, red carpet specials, Chelsea Lately, The Mindy Project, 30 Rock, and more female-driven comedies without the work of Joan Rivers? Would there be a Kathy Griffin, an Amy Schumer, a Kristen Wiig, and Sarah Silverman? Sure. But would it have been an even harder battle to the top? You’re damn right it would have been.
If you’ve yet to see the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, I highly recommend it. It’s an incredible snapshot of one of the greatest entertainers who’s ever lived. Smart, funny, unapologetic, and refusing to let a silly thing like age slow her down, Rivers lived her life in an inspiring way that doesn’t exclude anyone outside of the entertainment industry.
Never, ever, ever stop trying to do what you love and if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Let’s not forget Joan Rivers and every amazing piece of work she did.