Joan Rivers, the groundbreaking comedian, author, and TV personality, has died at age 81 following complications from vocal cord surgery.
Born Joan Alexandra Molinsky on June 8, 1933, Rivers was known for her biting, foulmouthed humor, directed liberally at everyone, including herself. After getting her start in theater, and on the standup circuit, she broke out as a comedian with appearances on The Tonight Show starting in 1965. She became a regular stand-in host for Johnny Carson and blazed a trail for female comedians, both in terms of profile and the no-boundaries style she embodied.
She became the first woman to have her own late-night show in 1986 (causing a permanent rift with Carson) and continued to appear on other variety shows. She was also a screenwriter (1978’s Rabbit Test, starring Billy Crystal) and, with daughter Melissa basically invented red-carpet-as-entertainment. Leaning into the role of comedic fashion critic, she had been hosting E!’s Fashion Police for the past five years. She had also just published her 12th book, Diary of a Mad Diva, this summer. The 2010 documentary A Piece of Work, an all-access look at a year in Rivers’ life, depicted a consummate entertainer who could never stop working.
“My mother’s greatest joy in life was to make people laugh,” Melissa Rivers said in a statement. “Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon.”