Joan Rivers, Tart-Tongued Comic and Emmy-Winning Host, Dead at 81

Joan Rivers, the acerbic comedian, Emmy-winning TV host, red-carpet fashion critic and “celebreality” star, died Thursday in New York City following complications from surgery last week.

RELATED Joan Rivers: 15 Memorable (and Hilarious) Career Moments

Rivers, 81, had been in a medically induced coma at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital since her heart stopped beating during a doctor’s office procedure on her vocal cords. She had been moved to a private room on Wednesday, and was reportedly taken off life support this afternoon.

“It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers,” daughter Melissa said in a statement. “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.”

Joan Rivers found fame in the ’60s and ’70s performing standup on programs like The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show, hosting a syndicated talker and making regular appearances on staples like Candid Camera, The Carol Burnett Show and Hollywood Squares.

Her star rose even higher in the early 1980s, when serving as permanent guest-host for her mentor Johnny Carson on NBC’s The Tonight Show, but the two famously had a falling out when Rivers jumped ship to launch The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers on Fox in 1986. Rivers’ stint at the fledgling network did not last long — she and her executive-producers/husband Edgar Rosenberg were fired a year later; three months after that, Rosenberg commited suicide. (Rivers and her daughter, Melissa, would famously go on to play themselves in Tears and Laughter: The Joan and Melissa Rivers Story, a TV movie based on the aftermath of Rosenberg’s death.)

Rivers bounced back from her late-night setback by launching The Joan Rivers Show, a daytime gig that ran from 1989 to 1994 — and won her a Daytime Emmy in 1990 for Outstanding Talk Show Host.

In the last two decades, Rivers’ relentless work ethic and unapologetic cantankerousness — captured brilliantly in the 2010 documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work — made her a polarizing staple of red-carpet commentary and a wide range of reality shows, with her decidedly un-PC humor often getting her into hot water.

She began co-hosting E!’s Fashion Police starting in 2002, won NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice in 2009, was the subject of a Comedy Central roast that same year and even starred alongside her daughter in WE tv’s Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?, which completed its fourth season in May.

As recently as July, the comic made headlines after storming out in the middle of a CNN interview while promoting her book Diary of a Mad Diva.

“You really think Nicki Minaj cares I didn’t like her dress?” Rivers huffed when anchor Fredricka Whitfield characterized her guest’s Fashion Police commentary as very mean. “You are not the one to interview a person who does humor, sorry!”

Check out video below of the trailer for A Piece of Work, an Ed Sullivan appearance, and a Tonight Show sitdown with Carson in which Rivers throws hilarious shade at Christie Brinkley, then share your own favorite memories in the comments.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. alistaircrane says:

    You posted that obituary awfully fast, almost like you were ready for this. Creepy!

    • Jerry says:

      There was an article a few years back that revealed that most news organizations keep obituaries on file for people they consider to have a high chance of passing away. And every so often they go back and update them.

      For instance with Joan Rivers, they were probably working on it since last week. Whereas everyone was caught off guard with Robin Williams. RIP to both of them.

    • iammusic says:

      Most entertainment sites have pre-written obits for instances like this. They just update them as time goes by. While a bit morbid and creepy, it’s necessary in order to expedite news like this, rather than trying to write something after the fact.

    • S. says:

      Honey, she was an 81yo on life support for days. Moved from the ICU to a room to be comfortable, probably so she could die in peace. There were signs this was it. Nothing wrong with being ready for the bad news, and by the way there are plenty of obits pre-written for many many famous people that get updated as they do things. What are the odds they’ve got them written for George HW Bush, Jimmy Carter, Betty White, Don Rickles, Dick Van Dyke, etc.? Olivia de Havilland is 98.

    • Laura says:

      Considering the condition she’s been in for the past week, I’m sure every news outlet had one ready.

      //Goodnight, Funny Lady. :(

  2. alistaircrane says:

    Sad, sad, sad! I thought she was funny and refreshing Comedy won’t be the same without her.

  3. beth duncan says:

    So sad…the world of comedy has lost a star!

  4. Drew says:

    Part of me wants to make a snarky joke. Not because it’s funny that she died, but because it’s what she would have done. I wasn’t a huge fan, but I did respect some of the comments that she made recently.

    • Annie says:

      Well put. I wasn’t crazy about everything out of her mouth – she often veered out of “funny” and into “mean-spirited and just plain mean” – but she was a true innovator, and a trailblazer for other women in the entertainment field, especially in comedy, and that deserves to be honored.

      • Meredith says:

        It’s my (completely not first-hand) understanding that she was actually a very nice and thoughtful person who did a lot for charities and non-profits without caring about publicizing it for attention or fanfare. I’m going to continue believing that’s true. Godspeed, you old broad. The Fashion Police won’t be the same without you.

    • Ray says:

      Go ahead. I’m sure that’s what Joan would have wanted.

      Joan Rivers makes three!

  5. asherq says:

    oh no!! i thought she was showing signs of improvement! what happened!?

    • jacobg2 says:

      The Illuminati

    • Annie says:

      There really weren’t any true indications of improvement, from what I’ve read – the upgrade in condition was just a reflection of the fact that they’d achieved stability. She’d been on life support since shortly after the surgery. They just took her off of it today.

  6. Steven says:

    RIP Joan. Award season just won’t be the same without you.

  7. Dean says:

    It really is a sad year in Hollywood with so many losses. Robin Williams now Joan. RIP Joan Rivers i will never forget the jokes you made about Taylor Swift, they were really funny.

  8. Ali Sr says:

    One of a kind. She could be forgiven for her “dry martini” humor because she began by poking fun at herself…and nothing in her life was off limits. She did the same to others, but always a lady. Mrs. Rivers, you will be sorely missed. In my heart and prayers.

  9. Moment says:

    The world loses another legend. R.I.P.

  10. Diz says:

    RIP. I’m going to miss watchin you and Dennis Basso work together on QVC.

    • Nana3 says:

      I hope that Dennis can continue in Joan’s honor on QVC. I am sure she had things in the works. I am glad I was able to purchase something of Joan’s. May she rest in peace.

  11. Paula says:

    Rest in Peace Joan, she was an amazing hard working woman who accomplish so much.

  12. Tim says:

    We love you Joan!

  13. Babybop says:

    Her poor daughter. Praying for the family . 2014 is just cursed.

  14. Karen Griff says:

    Such a loss, so sad. She will be missed by millions.

  15. Deidre Littles says:

    I will truly miss Joan’s humor, especially on “Joan and Melissa”. She was hilarious. Rest in PEACE!

  16. Ruth Mindel says:

    I hope this old Jewish saying helps a little. Say not in grief that she is no more, but in Thankfulness she was here (to love & cherish)

    • nobody special says:

      THANK you! It doesn’t help a lot, but it helps a little.

      Can we talk? I’ve enjoyed you for many years, Joan, and you will be missed.

  17. Mary says:

    RIP Joan, will miss you on Fashion Police. I had a feeling yesterday when they moved her to a private room that it was a matter of time. I was praying I was wrong. My thoughts and prayers goes out to her love ones and friends.

  18. tahina45 says:

    RIP Joan Rivers, the lady who told it as it was, to celebrities and or to those who thought they were, she reminded them otherwise. What a tough year for the media in general. Melissa and family, peace and God bless.

  19. Leanne says:

    Joan Rivers will be missed.. I am so sorry for her family. She was one Grand Lady

  20. auntiemm says:

    I’ve been sitting here reading Diary of a Mad Diva and laughing hysterically all afternoon. Like her or not she was one hell of a funny woman. May God grant you peace.

  21. Jenny says:

    RIP Joan. Loved her as “Dot Matrix” in Spaceballs.

  22. hayley mann says:

    to the whole rivers family i send you my heartfelt sorrow for the loss of such a wonderful woman joan was the greatest entertainer ever,she will be sorely missed by all.r.i.p joan.xx

  23. dionne says:

    I would like to say . I truly enjoyed Joan Rivers ad a women, mother and comedian. The world continues to lose its humor…Rip Joan and Robert

  24. Eliza says:

    I’m too young to know the full extent of her accomplishments but I do know she was a very hard working woman right up until the end. And she paved the way for many. I love looking at old appearances & interviews (like the Ed Sullivan & Carson ones posted above).. there’s certainly plenty of gems of her out there. RIP Joan xo

  25. I’m so sad. So very very sad.
    Thanks for all the laughter Miss Rivers!

  26. frustratedwithbadtvshows says:

    So sad to hear Joan Rivers passed away. Very funny lady! Loved her in Spaceballs!

  27. DanT2590 says:

    What a sad day! The news gave us hope, then they pulled it out from under us with Joan’s death. She was a person that always made me laugh out loud, whether I was with people or home alone. I’m going to really miss that! I was looking forward to Joan and Melissa reality show returning. She sure did a lot and loved life. And she was telling jokes and doing what she liked the night before she went into the coma. But it sure makes you think about having ‘minor’ surgery, doesn’t it! Wasn’t too minor for Joan!

  28. Deborah Kaplan says:

    When I was growing up in the 1960’s, my family would watch The Ed Sullivan show every Sunday evening. I remember Joan Rivers being on his show almost all the time. She was
    hilarious. Every time she did a stand-up routine on his show, we would laugh. She will be missed. I hope she rests in peace.

  29. i feel for her family but i don’t have much for her as a “legend” or even a “comedienne” i see her a hateful woman who used humor to get away with spewing her hatred

    • Moax429 says:

      I agree 150%. I am only a fan of *clean* humor (e.g. (the late) Jackie Gleason, Bill Cosby, or “Weird Al” Yankovic).

      But my sympathies *do* go out to her family. It *is* sad when you lose a loved one.

  30. Joey Padron says:

    Sad she’s gone. My thoughts and prayers go out to her daughter, family, and friends.

  31. Angie says:

    You will be missed, loved your show. R.I.P

  32. worthymagic says:

    This is terrible. There will never be anyone else like her. Can they really continue Fashion Police without her? Condolences to her friends and family.

  33. Pat says:

    My thoughts and prayers go out to her Daughter and Grandson. I first came upon Joan during the 1960’s and I was just a teen back then. She was a very funny lady. May She Rest in Peace!

  34. keith says:

    I never missed her appearances on the view. You never knew what she was gonna say. Thanks for the laughs Joan!

  35. Jenny says:

    Sad to hear about her passing. She always made me laugh. Prayers and wishes to her daughter and grandson.

  36. Angela says:

    Shame to hear this news. My heart goes out to her daughter and grandson on their loss-losing a parent/grandparent is always rough. Rest in peace, Joan.

  37. Susan says:

    I always admired her for her resiliency and bravery — as well as for her wit and spirit. That video clip of Joan with Johnny Carson is especially poignant because it shows how much Carson liked and respected her and how friendly they were, and yet, shortly after this broadcast, Joan started her own late night show and Carson never forgave her and never spoke to her ever again.

  38. Chaya says:

    Thank you for posting the Johnny Carson show clip. I scared my cat by laughing so hard. I wish someone could come up with a “best of …” compilation.

    She was I’ve of the funniest people ever. Losing her and Robin Williams in such a short time is cruel and unusual punishment.

  39. johnny says:

    Love her or hate her, she is one hilarious comedian. The only reason I even watch Fashion Police is because of her no-holds-barred comments and critics. Aside from this tragic loss, I am really sad I won’t be hearing any of her jokes anymore. Confirmed…2014 is killing comedians :(

  40. George Schaffner says:

    I hate HATING, Dinozzo, why does he have to be so damm self serving, hateful with his Co workers ? ? ? Will he ever grow up&out of his damm collage preparatory persona and give underlings a brake as well as credit, will he never reach out a helping hand to others for reasons other than self serving? ? ? I for one, at 73 detest self serving SOB’s like DiNozzo and he would never last over 5 minuets on a “Log Deck”, working on a ranch, being a member a part of a good military TEAM. I have been there, done it and “They Don’t Hand Out Tee Shirts” to team members. OhhhhYeah I sure miss Ziva. Haven’t see many with the Blond “Nit Wit”, I am not impressed with her what ever super whiz-biz, bang bang brain.

  41. Hot Dumb Italian Mike! says:

    Rest in peace Miss Rivers. It would seem the last comedy legend we have left is the great Don Rickles!

  42. Ali Sr says:

    I love her – she was unique. A lady in every sense of the word. In my prayers 🙏

  43. joe says:

    Good! Finally! St. Peter at the Pearly Gates should ask her ‘Do you think I care you’re trying to get in?’ Since she never cared or considered others’ feelings. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.