One of the pioneers of television entertainment, Joan Rivers, has passed away on Sept. 4, 2014 in New York City, at the age of 81, as reported by TVLine today. It is news that is passing through the entertainment community with the speed of light, a reflection of the light and laughter with which she was such a vital part of the laughter and good memories of television since the 1960s. Even until yesterday, fans and well-wishers were posting messages of love and support across social media.
Joan’s daughter, Melissa Rivers, posted on Joan’s Facebook page yesterday that her mother “had been moved out of intensive care and into a private room where she is being kept comfortable. Thank you for your continued support.” All of America was praying and sending positive thoughts in hopes of Joan's recovery and return to television.
You can read elsewhere of all the places she performed, the television shows of which she was a part and the standup world of comedy that she and Phyllis Diller pioneered as women comics. What should be remembered most about Joan Rivers was that she was a brilliant woman, a Phi Beta Kappa, in fact, who was a survivor of and leader in the entertainment business.
It wasn’t just overcoming the “good old boys club” of comedy that Joan had to achieve, because she was both accepted and celebrated by her peers in the early days of standup. Her routines always included jokes about her husband Edgar, and her mother, and essentially all the pressures of growing up in the world as a “thinking woman.” She cut through more than a few barriers and although her humor could be, at times, cutting, acerbic, and even harsh, you just had to laugh at her delivery because she had a commanding presence that demanded your attention.
Her trademark “Oh, oh, oh” to accentuate a line was as funny as her jokes. She often made fun of herself but that was a bright defense mechanism so no one could take her down because she did it first. In the grand old days of “The Tonight Show” starring Johnny Carson, Joan was the most popular of all the guest hosts, and certainly was Johnny’s favorite.
In Henry Bushkin’s book, Johnny Carson, he shares the story that Johnny Carson was considering naming Joan as his “permanent guest host” because Carson had an extremely lucrative weekend gig (that frequently began on Thursdays) in Las Vegas and he also took week-long breaks. However, NBC started considering someone else as Johnny’s replacement as they seemed reluctant to name Joan.
At this point, Rivers’ husband Edgar Rosenberg, who had been managing her career, saw either the futility or inevitability of Rivers’ not being named as permanent guest host and sought out a lucrative deal for her with Barry Diller for Joan to have her own show on Fox. That it was all done around and without Johnny’s knowledge singed him in a substantive way. He never invited Joan on his show again. Joan did manage to win an Emmy, though, as Bushkin pointed out, and Edgar had his first full opportunity to be a TV producer.
Soon after Joan lost her talk show, she also lost Edgar, as he committed suicide. Turning tragedy into resolve and healing, Joan and their daughter Melissa reinvented Joan’s image. She again became popular in the world of entertainment, she was important to the QVC channel, and the duo found a home on the E! television network and became fashion commentators, among other topics.
When Jay Leno became heir apparent to Carson, Joan returned to the program when she wanted to, and she was also a guest on Jay’s send-off show upon his retirement. Joan loved her work and she lived to work, and she was working up until the very end. Her daughter Melissa has a career that would make any mother proud and in the meantime, as floodgates open to the well-wishes that flow ahead, America will be reminded of the entertainment they enjoyed for over 50 years, thanks to Joan. Thanks for the laughter, Joan, and may you rest in peace.