Joan Rosenberg[1] aka Joan Rivers (born Joan Alexandra Molinsky;[2][3][4] June 8, 1933, died September 4, 2014) was an American comedian, television personality and actress. She was known for her brash manner, her loud, raspy voice with a heavy New York accent, as well as her numerous cosmetic surgeries. Rivers's comic style relies heavily on poking fun at herself and other celebrities, mostly about their fashion sense. A documentary film about Rivers, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival at the Castro Theatre on May 6, 2010.

Personal life

Rivers was born Joan Molinsky in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants Beatrice (née Grushman) and Meyer C. Molinsky, a doctor.[5][6] She was reared in Brooklyn, New York, and her family later moved to Larchmont, in Westchester County, NY. She attended Connecticut College between 1950 and 1952 and graduated from Barnard College in 1954 with a bachelor-of-arts degree in English literature[7] and anthropology. Before entering show business, Rivers worked at various jobs such as a tour guide at Rockefeller Center,[8] a writer/proofreader at an advertising agency[8] and as a fashion consultant at Bond Clothing Stores.[9] During this period, an agent named Tony Rivers told her to change her name, so she suggested Joan Rivers as her new name.[10]

Her first marriage was in 1955 to James Sanger,[11] the son of a Bond Clothing Stores merchandise manager. The marriage lasted six months[12] and was annulled on the basis that Sanger did not want children and had not informed Rivers before the wedding.[13] Her second marriage was on July 15, 1965[14] to Edgar Rosenberg, who committed suicide in 1987. Their only child, Melissa Warburg Rosenberg (now known as Melissa Rivers), was born on January 20, 1968.

In her book, Bouncing Back (1997), she described how she developed bulimia and contemplated suicide. Eventually she recovered with counseling and the support of her family.

In 2002, Rivers told the Montreal Mirror that she was a Republican.[15]


Early career

During the late 1950s, Rivers appeared in a short-run play, Seawood, playing a lesbian with a crush on a character played by a then-unknown Barbra Streisand. The play ran for six weeks.[16] Rivers performed in numerous comedy clubs in the Greenwich Village area of New York City in the early 1960s, including The Bitter End and The Gaslight Cafe,[17] before making her first appearances as a guest on the TV program The Tonight Show. (The program, then originating from New York, was hosted by Jack Paar.[18]

By 1965, Rivers had a stint on Candid Camera as a gag writer and participant; she was "the bait" to lure people into ridiculous situations for the show. She also made her first appearance on The Tonight Show with new host, of course, Johnny Carson, on February 17, 1965.[19] During the same decade, Rivers made other appearances on The Tonight Show as well as The Ed Sullivan Show, while hosting the first of several talk shows. She had a brief role in The Swimmer (1968), starring Burt Lancaster. A year later, she had a short-lived syndicated daytime talk show; Johnny Carson was her first guest.[20] In the middle of the 1960s, she released at least two comedy albums, The Next to Last Joan Rivers Album[21] and Joan Rivers Presents Mr. Phyllis & Other Funny Stories.[22]

By the 1970s, Rivers was appearing on various television comedy and variety shows, including The Carol Burnett Show and a semi-regular stint on Hollywood Squares. From 1972 to 1976, she narrated The Adventures of Letterman, an animated segment for The Electric Company. In 1973, Rivers wrote the TV movie The Girl Most Likely to..., a black comedy starring Stockard Channing. In 1978, Rivers wrote and directed the film Rabbit Test, starring her friend Billy Crystal. During the same decade, she was the opening act for singer Helen Reddy on the Las Vegas Strip, becoming a Strip headliner herself in the 1980s.


Rivers has spoken of her primary Tonight Show life as having been Johnny Carson's daughter, a reference to his longtime mentoring of her and, during the 1980s, establishing her as his regular guest host by August 1983. It was not her only work, however. On April 9, 1983, she hosted Saturday Night Live.[23] In the same period, she released a best-selling comedy album on Geffen Records, What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most? The album reached No. 22 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album.[24]


Autograph with famous catch phrase, about 1983

Also in 1984, Rivers published a best-selling humor book, The Life and Hard Times of Heidi Abramowitz, a mock memoir of her brassy, loose comedy character. A television special based on the character, a mock tribute called Joan Rivers and Friends Salute Heidi Abramowitz, was not successful with the public.

The decade was controversial for Rivers. She sued female impersonator Frank Marino for $5,000,000 in 1986, after discovering he was using her real stand-up material in the impersonation of her that he included in his popular Las Vegas act. The two comics reconciled, even appearing together on television in later years.[25]

Also in 1986 came the move that cost Rivers her longtime friendship with Carson, who had first hired her as a Tonight Show writer. The soon-to-launch Fox Television Network announced that it was giving her a late night talk show, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers.[26] The new network planned to broadcast the show 11:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. Eastern Time, making her a Carson competitor. Carson claimed he learned of the show from Fox and not from Rivers herself. In 2008, during an interview with Dr. Pamela Connolly on television's Shrink Rap, Rivers claimed she did call Carson, but he hung up on her at once and repeated the gesture when she called again.

The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers turned out to be flecked by tragedy. When Rivers challenged Fox executives, who wanted to fire her husband Edgar Rosenberg as the show's producer, the network fired them both. On May 15, 1987, three months later, Rosenberg committed suicide in Philadelphia; Rivers blamed the tragedy on his "humiliation" by Fox.[27] Fox attempted to continue the show with a new name (The Late Show) and rotating guest hosts.

A year after the Late Show debacle, Rivers was a guest on TV's Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special. By 1989, she tried another daytime TV talk show, The Joan Rivers Show,[28] which ran for five years.

In 1994, Rivers and daughter Melissa first hosted the E! Entertainment Television pre-awards show for the Golden Globe Awards.[29] Beginning in 1995, they hosted the annual E! Entertainment Television pre-awards show for the Academy Awards.[29] Beginning in 1997, Rivers hosted her own radio show on WOR in New York.


By 2003, Rivers had left her E! red-carpet show for a three-year contract (valued between $6–8 million) to cover award-show red-carpet shows for the TV Guide Channel.[30]

File:Joan Rivers.jpg

Joan Rivers poses for a photograph at the Pierre Hotel, May 24, 2001

Rivers appeared in three episodes of the TV show Nip/Tuck during its second, third and seventh season playing herself.[31][32][33] Rivers appears regularly on television's The Shopping Channel (in Canada) and QVC (in both the United States and the UK), promoting her own line of jewelry under brand name "The Joan Rivers Collection". She was also a guest speaker at the opening of the American Operating Room Nurses' 2000 San Francisco Conference. Both Joan and Melissa Rivers are frequent guests on Howard Stern's radio show, and Joan Rivers often appears as a guest on UK panel show 8 out of 10 Cats.

On August 16, 2007, Rivers began a two-week workshop of her new play, with the working title "The Joan Rivers Theatre Project," at The Magic Theatre in San Francisco.[34] On December 3, 2007, Rivers was featured before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh in the Royal Variety Show 2007 at the Liverpool Empire Theatre.

In January 2008, Rivers became one of 20 hijackers to take control of the Big Brother house in the UK for one day in spin-off TV show Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack. On June 24, 2008, Rivers appeared on NBC-TV’s show Celebrity Family Feud and competed with her daughter, Melissa against Ice-T and Coco.

File:Joan Rivers - Life in Progress - Fringe.jpg

Joan Rivers performing in her show at the 2008 Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Rivers and daughter Melissa were contestants in 2009 on the second Celebrity Apprentice. Throughout the season, each celebrity raised money for a charity of his or her choice; Rivers selected God's Love We Deliver.[35] After a falling out with poker player Annie Duke, following Melissa's on-air firing (elimination) by Donald Trump, Rivers left the green room telling Clint Black and Jesse James that she would not be in the next morning. Rivers later returned to the show and on May 3, 2009, she became a finalist in the series. The other finalist was Duke.[36][37] On the season finale, which aired live on May 10, Joan was announced the winner and hired to be the 2009 Celebrity Apprentice.

Rivers was featured on the show Z Rock as herself and was also a special so-called pink-carpet presenter for the 2009 broadcast of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. She was also roasted in a Comedy Central special, taped on July 26, 2009, and aired on August 9, 2009. From August 2009, Joan began starring in the new reality TV series How'd You Get So Rich? on TV Land.

File:Joan Rivers at Udderbelly 09.jpg

Joan performing at a London Udderbelly event in 2009

Cameos and parodies


Rivers was an Honorary Chair of the Imperial Court of New York's Annual Charity Coronation Ball, "Night of A Thousand Gowns," March 21, 2009.


  • In 1990, Rivers won the Daytime Emmy Award (a TV citation) for Outstanding Talk Show Host. The same year, a "star" in her name was placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
  • In 1994, she was nominated for both Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Best Leading Actress in a Play for Sally Marr and Her Escorts, which she wrote with Erin Ladd Sanders and Lonny Price.[40]
  • In a 2005 BBC Channel 4 poll to select The Comedian's Comedian, she was voted 40th among the "Top 50" comedy acts ever, by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.


On August 28, 2014, Rivers experienced serious complications and stopped breathing while undergoing what was scheduled to be a minor throat procedure at an outpatient clinic in Yorkville, Manhattan. Resuscitated an hour later, Rivers was transferred to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and later put on life support. She died on September 4 at Mount Sinai, never having awakened from a medically induced coma. The New York City Medical Examiner's Office said that she died from brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen.

After nearly two months of investigations, federal officials said on November 10 that the clinic made a number of mistakes both before and during the procedure. Among those were the clinic's failure to respond to Rivers' deteriorating vital signs, including a severe drop in her blood pressure, possibly administering an incorrect anesthetic dosage, performing a surgical procedure without her consent, and other medical-clinic irregularities.

On September 7, after the cremation of Rivers' body at Garden State Crematory in North Bergen, New Jersey, a private memorial service took place at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan. The service was attended by an estimated 1,500 people. The guest list included Rivers' many celebrity friends, and public figures such as Howard Stern, Louis C.K., Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Joy Behar, Michael Kors, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rosie O'Donnell, Kathy Griffin, and Donald Trump. The musical performances included Hugh Jackman singing "Quiet Please, There's a Lady On Stage", as well as the New York City Gay Men's Chorus singing old show tunes.Talk show host Howard Stern, who delivered the eulogy, described Rivers as "brassy in public [and] classy in private ... a troublemaker, trail blazer, pioneer for comics everywhere, ... [who] fought the stereotypes that women can't be funny."Daughter Melissa read a comedic note to her mother as part of her eulogy. Some of Rivers' ashes were scattered by her daughter in Wyoming.

On January 26, 2015, Melissa Rivers filed a malpractice lawsuit against the clinic and the doctors who performed surgery on her mother.The suit was settled for an undisclosed amount in May 2016, with the doctors accepting responsibility for Rivers' death.

Reactions and tributes

Rivers in 1967

Upon Rivers' death, friends, fans, family and celebrities paid tribute. Numerous comedians recognized Rivers' influence on their career, including Kathy Griffin, who considered Rivers her "mentor", noting, "She brought a fearlessness and a brand of humor into our homes that we really need." Chris Rock said "she was the hippest comedian from the time she started to the day she died". Describing her as a force in comedy, he added, "No man ever said, 'Yeah, I want to go on after Joan.' No, Joan Rivers closed the show every night." Other comedians recalled working with her on stage and television decades earlier: stand-up performer Don Rickles said "working with her and enjoying the fun times of life with her was special". Carol Burnett calls Rivers "the poster child for the Energizer Bunny".

Numerous talk show hosts, including David Muir, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Oprah Winfrey, Sally Jessy Raphael, Wendy Williams, Geraldo Rivera, Regis Philbin, Arsenio Hall, Ellen DeGeneres and David Letterman, paid tribute to Rivers, often including video clips of her appearances. Letterman called her a "real pioneer for other women looking for careers in stand-up comedy. And talk about guts." Conan O'Brien discussed Rivers' legacy with fellow comedian and lifelong friend Chris Hardwick on Conan, while Seth Meyers recalled Rivers' appearance on his talk show, saying, "I have not sat next to anyone who told more jokes faster than Joan Rivers did when she was here." On The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart noted her contributions to comedy: "There are very few people in my business that you can say are, or were, actually groundbreaking talents. Joan Rivers was one of them." Radio host Howard Stern, who delivered the eulogy at her funeral, devoted an entire one-hour show to Rivers. Stern sought help from comedian Louis C.K., another friend of Rivers', before giving the eulogy. When Stern spoke at the funeral, he began the eulogy with, "Joan Rivers had a dry vagina", a joke that was intended, and reportedly received by guests, as a humorous honoring of Rivers' comedic sensibility. Sarah Silverman paid tribute to Rivers while hosting Saturday Night Live; in one sketch, she portrayed Rivers in Heaven. Long-time friend, comedian, fellow talk show hostess and television personality Whoopi Goldberg tweeted: "My friend Joan Rivers has passed away". She said: "Once again to quote Billy Crystal...There are no words." Comedian Louis C.K. released a statement saying, "I looked up to her. I learned from her. I loved her. I liked her. And I already miss her very much. It really fucking sucks that she had to die all of a sudden.”Amy Schumer, speaking at the 2014 Glamour magazine "Woman of the Year Awards" ceremony in Carnegie Hall, paid tribute to Rivers, calling her the bravest female comedian.

Political figures giving tribute to Rivers included former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who said she was one of the "funniest people I ever knew." Upon hearing of her death, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla said she was "utterly irreplaceable".Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that besides bringing laughter to millions of people around the world, she was "proud of her Jewish heritage". Then-future U.S. President Donald Trump attended her funeral and tweeted that she "was an amazing woman and a great friend".After her mother's death, Melissa Rivers said she received a letter from President Barack Obama in which he wrote, despite being a frequent target of Rivers' jokes: "not only did she make us laugh, she made us think".

In a subsequent interview with The Huffington Post, Melissa Rivers cited Courtney Love's public tribute to her mother as her favorite, adding: "I loved seeing that outpouring from these women, especially the ones who took the heat on Fashion Police, because it meant they got it. It meant they loved her. It meant they saw the humor."


  • Having a Baby Can Be a Scream (1974, self-help/humor book)
  • The Life and Hard Times of Heidi Abramowitz (1984, humor book)
  • Enter Talking (1986, autobiography)
  • Still Talking (1991, autobiography)
  • Jewelry by Joan Rivers (1995)
  • Bouncing Back: I've Survived Everything ... and I Mean Everything ... and You Can Too! (1997, autobiography/self-help)
  • From Mother to Daughter: Thoughts and Advice on Life, Love and Marriage (1998)
  • Don’t Count the Candles: Just keep the Fire Lit! (1999)
  • Men Are Stupid . . . And They Like Big Boobs: A Woman's Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery (2008)
  • Murder at the Academy Awards (R): A Red Carpet Murder Mystery (2009)


Television work

Theater work

The following is a selected list of theater work performed by Rivers.


  1. Amira, Dan (January 5, 2010). "Joan Rivers, a.k.a. Joan Rosenberg, a.k.a. Potential Terrorist". New York. Retrieved August 10, 2010. 
  2. Roca, Octavio (2004-03-29). "Comic queen Joan Rivers bites back with sharp, funny new show. | The Miami Herald (via Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service) (March, 2004)". Archived from the original on 2012-07-20. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  3. Roura, Phil (2006-05-14). "Can she talk! Joan Rivers muses on her daughter, Cher and fun Down Under". Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  4. Rochlin, Margy (March 4, 2001). "Oscar Films/The Show; Taking No Prisoners at the Edge of the Red Carpet". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  5. Pfefferman, Naomi (2007-12-27). "Joan Rivers’ ‘Life’—audacious, as always|Arts In L.A.". Jewish Journal. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  6. "Joan Rivers Biography (1933?-)". Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  7. Rivers, Joan (1986). Autobiography: Enter Talking. New York: Delacorte Press, First Printing
  8. 8.0 8.1 Autobiography: Bouncing Back (1997), HarperCollins. p. 74-75
  9. Riley, Sam G. (1995) Biographical Dictionary of American Newspaper Columnists, Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 265 ISBN 9780313291920.
  10. Sochen, June (1998). "From Sophie Tucker to Barbra Streisand: Jewish Women Entertainers as Reformers". Talking Back: Images of Jewish Women in American Popular Culture. Ed. Joyce Antler. Brandeis series in American Jewish history, culture, and life. Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press Published by University Press of New England. pp. 68-84.
  11. Enter Talking, p. 67-71
  12. Enter Talking, fourth page of photo inserts between p. 182-183
  13. Enter Talking, p. 70
  14. Enter Talking epilogue, p. 375
  15. Hays, Matthew (2002). "Can she talk". Montreal Mirror. Archived from the original on November 16, 2002. Retrieved May 18, 2010. 
  16. Enter Talking, p. 85-96 and last photo insert page before p. 183
  17. Enter Talking, p. 230
  18. Enter Talking, p. 233-239
  19. Enter Talking, p. 359-373
  20. 20.0 20.1 "The Joan Rivers Show". Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  21. "The Next to Last Joan Rivers Album". Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  22. "Joan Rivers Presents Mr. Phyllis & Other Funny Stories". Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  23. "Saturday Night Live". IMDB. 1983-04-09. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  24. "Grammy Awards". 1984-02-28. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  25. Frank Marino discusses law suit
  26. King, Norman (1993). Arsenio Hall. New York: William Morrow & Co., pp. 47–48
  27. Joanne Kaufman, Alan Carter, "Rocked by Tragedy and Failure, Joan Rivers Comes Back with a New Show and a New Life", People, February 19, 1990
  28. "The Joan Rivers Show". IMDB. 2001-05-25. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  29. 29.0 29.1 Bouncing Back!, p. 207
  30. "Entertainment & the Arts | TV briefs: Rivers duo may leave E! for TV Guide Channel | Seattle Times Newspaper". 2004-06-25. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  31. "Nip/Tuck Episode: "Joan Rivers"". Lionsgate. October 5, 2004. Retrieved April 27, 2010. 
  32. "Nip/Tuck Episode: "Ben White"". Lionsgate. November 1, 2005. Retrieved April 27, 2010. 
  33. "Nip/Tuck Episode: "Hiro Yoshimura"". Lionsgate. March 3, 2010. Retrieved April 27, 2010. 
  34. "San Francisco". Magic Theatre. Retrieved 2009-04-29. [dead link]
  35. "Joan Rivers". The Celebrity Apprentice. NBC. Retrieved 2009-04-28. [dead link]
  36. Catlin, Roger (2009-04-27). "'Celebrity Apprentice': Rivers Run". Hartford Courant. Retrieved 2009-04-28. 
  37. "Rivers defends daughter on 'Celebrity Apprentice'". Associated Press. 2009-04-27. Archived from the original on 2009-05-02. Retrieved 2009-04-28. 
  38. "Kate Thornton (I) - Biography". 1973-02-07. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  39. 39.0 39.1 "E! True Hollywood Story: Joan Rivers". Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  40. "Entertainment Awards Database accessed Feb. 28, 2009". Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  41. "Tears and Laughter: The Joan and Melissa Rivers Story". Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  42. "''Season 2 Episode 16''". 2007-09-08. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  43. "Broadway Bound - Replacements". Retrieved 2009-04-29. 

External links

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Season 8 (Celebrity Edition 2)
Succeeded by
Bret Michaels

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