(NEW YORK) — Joan Rivers, a comic legend known for her trademark snarky humor and long, wide-ranging career, has died at age 81.
Rivers was undergoing throat surgery last week in New York City when she suffered cardiac arrest and was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital. Her daughter Melissa Rivers confirmed Tuesday that her mother was on life support.
On Thursday afternoon, Melissa Rivers issued a statement saying, “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.”
Rivers added, “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 was born Joan Alexandra Molinsky June 8, 1933 in Brooklyn, N.Y. After graduating from college with a BA in English literature and anthropology, she worked a handful of different jobs before turning her attention full-time to show business. It was her agent at the time who suggested she change her last name professionally. She took his, and became Joan Rivers.
Rivers was already a successful stand-up comic in New York City when she began making TV appearances in the early 1960s, beginning as a guest on The Tonight Show, first when hosted by Jack Parr and then, Johnny Carson. She quickly became a familiar television presence, appearing on comedy and variety shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show, and also released her first comedy albums.
Rivers briefly had her own daytime talk show in the late 1960s, on which Johnny Carson was her first guest. Carson served in large part as a mentor for her for decades, showcasing her often on his show, and ultimately having her serve as frequent Tonight Show guest host. Their friendship abruptly and very publicly ended when Rivers accepted an offer in 1986 to host a rival late-night talk show on Fox, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, and reportedly didn’t tell Carson ahead of time.
Feeling betrayed, Carson never again spoke to her, and instituted a Tonight Show ban that ended only when Jimmy Fallon featured her on his first broadcast as host, in February of 2014. Ironically, Rivers’ late-night talk show lasted only a year before she was fired. She later went on to host her own Emmy-winning daytime talk show, The Joan Rivers Show, from 1989-1993.
Rivers continued to perform stand up and was a near constant television presence until her death. In 1994, she and her daughter, Melissa, began providing red carpet coverage and commentary for E! Entertainment Television, and became known for catty, often hilarious comments about celebrity awards show fashion. In 2010, that trademark snark was showcased in the E! show, Fashion Police. She was as popular in the U.K. as she was in America, appearing frequently on game and chat shows there, and receiving an invitation to the April 2005 wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.
Though never shy about offering her opinions on current events and pop culture, Rivers received increasing criticism in recent years for remarks, often about tragic news events, that many judged to be harsh or insensitive. She sometimes explained herself, but seldom apologized.
Rivers was married twice; once for less than a year in 1955, and then to Edgar Rosenberg, from 1965 until his death in 1987. Melissa is her only child.
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