Joan Rivers, Comedy Icon And Straight Ally, Dead At 81; Here’s Why She Was Awesome

British Academy Television Awards - ArrivalsJoan Rivers, a comedian who could truly be described as legendary and a longtime ally to the LGBT community, has died at age 81 in New York’s Mt. Sinai hospital, reports Variety.

“She passed peacefully at 1:17 p.m. surrounded by family and close friends,” her daughter, Melissa, said in a statement. “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.”

Melissa added that she and her son, Cooper, “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 had been admitted to the hospital after she stopped breathing during a procedure on her vocal cords at a New York outpatient clinic that resulted in heart and lung failure, and was placed in a medically-induced coma to assess her condition.

Probably best-known to contemporary audiences for her appearances fearlessly critiquing celebrity fashion on the red carpet, as host of TV’s Fashion Police and as the star of her own reality series Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best?, the comic had a long and nearly unparalleled career. In fact, Rivers maintained one of the longest active careers in show business by her uncanny ability to adapt with the times.

Born Joan Molinsky in 1933, Rivers rose to prominence in the late-1950s-early 1960s Greenwich Village scene that launched many notable careers. She made an early stage appearance as a lovelorn lesbian opposite another show business legend also who never downplayed her ethnicity, Barbra Streisand in a 1959 play called Driftwood. Rivers is quoted as saying, “It was my idea,” Rivers said. “It was a man’s part and they couldn’t cast it, so I said ‘I’ll do it! Make them lesbians!’ and Barbra was really thrilled.” She added, “Let me tell you, Barbra is a great kisser, but no tongue…”

Rivers made her greatest mark as a quick-witted guest on game shows such as The Hollywood Squares and talk shows, particularly as guest host on The Tonight Show for vacationing Johnny Carson, who became a mentor to the comic. She was such as hit subbing for Carson that in 1986 Fox eventually offered her a show of her own, which created a riff in the relationship between Rivers and Carson that never mended before his death in 2005. The talk show was considered a disaster at the time and Joan’s husband Edgar, who was a producer on the show and had often been used as fodder for her stand-up material,  committed suicide in 1987, which Joan later blamed on the humiliation he suffered at Fox.

Rivers’ career rebounded and she remained a household name for her signature brand of no-holds-barred comedy. She never shied away from making cracks about her own penchant for plastic surgery, and even guest starred on the TV series Nip/Tuck. At an age when many would enjoy retirement, Rivers tirelessly kept her self in front of cameras and on red carpets, where she became known to a new generation of TV viewers who’d never heard of Johnny Carson.

In one of her last interviews Rivers shared what might have been her motto: “Life is very tough and if you can make a joke to make something easier and funny, do it.”

Joan, you’ll be missed, but your legacy will live on for a long time.

Celebrate the long and singular career of Rivers by watching the videos below.

In 1978 Rivers tried her hand at directing and delivered Rabbit Test, a comedy about the world’s first pregnant man (Billy Crystal) that bore comparison to the early works of Woody Allen and Mel Brooks.

While hosting The Tonight Show, Joan worked her popular catchphrase “Can we talk?” into her monologues as frequently as possible.

In 1986 during one of her final appearances on The Tonight Show, Rivers riffed on a variety of topics with Carson including Madonna‘s recent wedding to Sean Penn.

Rivers dipped her toes in the reality competition series waters with an appearance on Donald Trump‘s Celebrity Apprentice.

 In 2009, Kathy Griffin hosted the Comedy Central roast of her pal.

Earlier this year while promoting her book, Rivers took umbrage at a CNN interviewer who called her “mean” and stormed off camera.

In 2010, Rivers allowed cameras to follow her around for an unvarnished look into her private world. Watch the trailer for Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work below.

As terrific as Joan was in front of cameras, there was nothing like seeing her live. In 2009, she showed why she was one of the greats during this routine at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre.