Joan Rivers, comedy legend dies at age 81

E! Entertainment photo

Statement from Melissa Rivers:

"It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers.

"She passed peacefully at 1:17pm surrounded by family and close friends. My son and I would like to thank the doctors, nurses, and staff of Mount Sinai Hospital for the amazing care they provided for my mother. Cooper and I have found ourselves humbled by the outpouring of love, support, and prayers we have received from around the world. They have been heard and appreciated.

"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 stopped breathing during a surgical procedure last week on her vocal cords. She had been on life support at the hospital ever since.

The E! Channel, where Rivers co-hosted "Fashion Police," has one of the first obits up. Sample:

Joan first became a household name after landing in the spotlight in 1965 during a guest appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The duo's chemistry was so palpable that she was named the permanent guest host in 1983.

Then in 1986, she began the rival program The Late Show which sparked a highly publicized rift between the two late-night talk show hosts.

Joan's program was a watershed moment for not only late-night television programming, but for women in comedy as a whole—which had up until that point been a male-dominated bubble within the entertainment industry.

Joan singlehandedly broke boundaries and gender roles and quickly became famous for her outspoken—and often times controversial—no-holds-barred approach.

Rivers' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is at 7000 Hollywood Boulevard.

Robert D. McFadden's obit at the New York Times:

Joan Rivers, the raspy loudmouth who pounced on America’s obsessions with flab, face-lifts, body hair and other blemishes of neurotic life, including her own, in five decades of caustic comedy that propelled her from nightclubs to television to international stardom, died on Thursday in Manhattan. She was 81….

Vivacious even as a nipped-and-tucked octogenarian, flitting from coast to coast and stage to studio in a whirl of live and taped shows, publicity stunts and cosmetic surgery appointments, Ms. Rivers evolved from a sassy, self-deprecating performer early in her career into a coarser assassin, slashing at celebrities and others with a rapier wit that some critics called comic genius in the bloodletting vein of Lenny Bruce. Others called it downright vicious. But if she turned the scowlers off, she left millions in stitches.

Can we talk?” she demanded in her signature call to gossip and skewer — the brassy Jewish-American princess from Flatbush, Brooklyn, and Larchmont, in Westchester County, leveling with the world.

The trailer to "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work," a 2010 documentary that Roger Ebert called "one of the most truthful documentaries about show business I've ever seen. Also maybe the funniest."

From the top of Jonathan Van Meter's story about Rivers and the documentary in New York Magazine in 2010:

When I first met Rivers it was 1988, just a year after Edgar had killed himself. She was moving back to New York after fourteen years in Los Angeles and taking over Linda Lavin’s role in Broadway Bound, a gig that she says pulled her life out of its nosedive. It wouldn’t be the last time she found redemption through her work.

On a recent morning in early May, we are sitting in her study eating cake. It has been served to us by Kevin and Debbie, her butler and housekeeper, who have been living with her for twenty years in their own quarters in her grand apartment, a mini-Versailles on East 62nd Street. (“Marie Antoinette would have lived here,” Rivers likes to say, “if she had money.”) Joan loves cake, loves anything sweet. The Joan Rivers diet: You can eat anything you want before 3 p.m. and then nothing for the rest of the day. When she goes out to dinner, she puts a small pile of Altoids on the table next to her plate, which she eats one after another while barely touching her food.

We are talking about the peculiar turn of events her life has taken recently, how she is suddenly squarely at the center of the culture again—something that has escaped her since her Fox debacle. At the age of 76, it seems, she has been rediscovered….

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