Joan Rivers. Let’s see how far I can get before writing “Can we talk?” Looks like eleven words.
I really didn’t want to take on this writeup. No matter how divisive or
controversial this woman was, she was a legend. We all know of her
early stand-up days, the ups and downs and eventual fall-out with Johnny
Carson, the red-carpet banter and insults, the plastic surgeries, the
talk shows, Fashion Police
, Celebrity Apprentice
, her husband’s
suicide, her daughter, her grandson. I tried to find some interesting
facts that maybe we didn’t all already know. Here goes:
daughter of Russian immigrant parents, she was born Joan Alexandra
Molinsky in Brooklyn in 1933. She discovered her comic talent at an
early age, by entertaining her father’s work colleagues. Her agent Tony
Rivers advised her to change her name, so she chose Joan Rivers as her
Rivers worked as a fashion coordinator for Bond
Clothing Stores and as a publicist for Lord and Taylor. Her first
marriage was in 1955, to James Sanger, the son of a Bond Clothing Stores
merchandise manager. The marriage was annulled on the basis that Sanger
did not want children and had not informed Rivers before the wedding.
Determined to succeed, Joan appeared in a number of small plays,
including one called Driftwood
. She played a lesbian with a crush on a
character played by a then-unknown Barbra Streisand. The play ran for
six weeks. Barbra and Joan shared a kiss in the production. When it
became apparent that acting was not her forte, Joan switched to comedy
and spent the next seven years doing the rounds of New York’s comedy
Her years as a struggling performer in the coffeehouses of
Greenwich Village gave her the experience she needed when her big break
finally came along in 1965. A booking on The Tonight Show with Johnny
turned Joan’s career around, and she became an instant hit.
Her first syndicated talk show on daytime TV, That Show with Joan
, combined with appearances on Carson and The Ed Sullivan Show
made Joan a household name. By 1983, Joan was headlining Las Vegas and
had a Grammy-nominated comedy album and two best-selling books. She was
also named Carson’s permanent guest host for The Tonight Show
led to her own talk show on the newly-formed Fox network in 1986 . . .
which led to Carson never speaking to her again for the rest of his
By the late 1980s, Joan's career had suffered a series of
setbacks. Her show was canceled, the industry turned its back on her,
and in 1987, her husband and producer of 22 years, Edgar Rosenberg,
committed suicide. In a book published ten years after his death, Rivers
said she developed bulimia during this dark period of her life and even
considered suicide. She said she managed to eventually move forward
with counseling and help from her family and friends.
back to New York, and by 1989 had launched a new syndicated daytime talk
show, for which she won an Emmy. She also got a star on the Hollywood
Walk of Fame. In 1994, she wrote and starred in Sally Marr and Her
, which earned her a Best Actress Tony nomination.
interview with Howard Stern, Rivers said she had several extramarital
affairs while married to Rosenberg. According to Rivers, she had a
one-night sexual encounter with actor Robert Mitchum in the 1960s after
an appearance together on The Tonight Show
In 2011, a new
series starring Joan and her daughter Melissa was launched on WE TV. The
reality show followed Joan as she moved to California and searched for a
new home. A second series of the show was commissioned and premiered
early in 2012.
Controversial to the very end, Joan died on
September 4, 2014, age 81, due to mysterious circumstances during a
fairly routine operation on her vocal cords. More to follow on that, as
the lawsuits have begun to pile up.
I’ll give the final words to
Joan, who once told an interviewer she wanted her gravestone to say,
“Go ahead and take the picture, asshole!”
OK, Joan, and Jim Thornton and I will also take the 8 points (5 points for hit + 3 points for duet). Say hi to Edgar for us.
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