She was born as Joan Alexandra Molinsky in Brooklyn, New York on 8th June 1933, into a family of Jewish immigrants who had fled the Russian revolution.
Joan graduated in English Literature before taking a variety of jobs including tour guide, proofreader and a fashion adviser in an upmarket men’s clothing store.
She had started her performing career in local theatres, particularly in the play Driftwood, where she played a lesbian who fancied a character played by Barbara Streisand, who was an unknown at the time.
It was at this time that a theatrical agent, Tony Rivers had advised her to take up a stage name so she chose to take up his, newly christened Joan Rivers. In the early 1960s, she appeared as a guest on NBC’s The Tonight Show, hosted by Jack Parr back then.
It became a key point in to her career in 1965 when she returned to The Tonight Show, hosted by Johnny Carson. He became for mentor for the next twenty years, keeping her on as a fixture on the show which led to other work, including her own TV shows, live performances in Las Vegas and even published a book, full of the one-liners that would become iconic to her career.
“She’s been responsible for more Merry men than Robin Hood,” was one example.
However her career would go downhill in the mid-80s, when approached by FOX TV to start her own late-night talk show, which would be at the same as Johnny Carson’s on NBC.
Carson had found out the news from Fox themselves, and never spoke to Rivers again, while NBC banned her from appearing on The Tonight Show, which extended when Carson died in 2005.
Her time at Fox was short lived, as her second husband Edgar Rosenberg who was producer for her news show, was fired by Fox in 1987. Rivers was fired as well after protesting to Fox managers, leading to her husband committing suicide three months later.
However in 1989 she would create her own TV show, writing most of the material and playing as herself, and was judged good enough to be nominated for a number of Daytime Emmy Awards, although the show itself was made because Rivers had discovered a failed business venture had left her millions of dollars in debt.
She would make a name for herself conducting red carpet interviews where she could indulge in celebrity baiting, eventually reaching her peak in the 2000s, performing in venues like the Royal Albert Hall, writing the book “Men are Stupid…And they like Big Boobs: A Woman’s Guide to Beauty through Plastic Surgery” in 2009, and even being invited to the wedding of the Prince of Wales in 2005.
In February 2014, she finally got an invitation to come back to The Tonight Show, after the 30 year ban. She told Variety magazine that it was about time: “I’ve been sitting in a taxi outside NBC with the meter running since 1987.”
Joan Rivers was mostly known for her comedy style of taking no prisoners when it came to wit, picking targets regardless of taste, race or gender. She would make jokes about Elizabeth Taylor;s and Adele’s weight problems-“Her favourite food is seconds,” the Ariel Castro kidnappings and even the Holocaust. When criticised for it, she explained: “This is the way I remember the Holocaust. I do it through humor.”
Although gathering a following of critics, even up to her death with the hashtag #karma trending after her death because of her comments about the Israel-Gaza conflict, she has also been praised for her brash, proudly politically incorrect style of comedy, making her the pioneer in a business mainly dominated by men, setting the path for other female comedians, such as Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’ Donnell.
Joan Rivers herself summed up her method: “I mock everybody, regardless of race, creed or colour. Every joke I make, no matter how tasteless, is there to draw attention to something I really care about…I say not only what I think, but what everyone thinks.”
Joan Rivers is survived by her only child, Melissa Rivers, who currently has one son, Cooper.