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Joan Rivers biography

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Joan Rivers was one of the most successful female comedians of her generation.

Her stage act veered from vitriolic attacks on fellow celebrities to a fine line in self-deprecation.

Mentored by Johnny Carson, Joan Rivers became famous on a string of US TV chat shows.

She also overcame mountainous debts and the suicide of her second husband.

Joan Rivers was born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in Brooklyn, New York, on June 8, 1933, into a family of Jewish immigrants who had fled the Russian revolution.

She graduated in English Literature before taking a series of jobs including working as a tour guide, a proofreader and a fashion adviser in an upmarket men’s clothing store.

She began performing in local theatres and a theatrical agent, Tony Rivers, suggested she adopt a stage name so she decided to take his.


In the early 1960s, Joan Rivers was performing in a number of New York comedy clubs, leading to her appearance as a guest on NBC’s The Tonight Show, then hosted by Jack Parr.

Joan Rivers began working as a writer and performer on Candid Camera, where she lured unsuspecting members of the public into ludicrous situations that were captured on camera.

Her return to The Tonight Show in 1965 proved a pivotal point in her career.

The new host, Johnny Carson, became her mentor and over the following 20 years Joan Rivers became an ever-present fixture on the show, sometimes filling in when Carson was away.

This led to other work. She hosted her own TV shows and also found time to release a couple of comedy records.

Joan Rivers also became noticed as a scriptwriter, providing material for Bob Newhart and Phyllis Diller.

Her live performances included stints in Las Vegas, where she became a popular warm-up act for a variety of stars.

Joan Rivers also published a book, The Life and Hard Times of Heidi Abramowitz, based on the brassy stage persona she cultivated in her stand-up comedy acts.

The book was full of typical Joan Rivers one-liners.

Joan Rivers was one of the most successful female comedians of her generation

Joan Rivers was one of the most successful female comedians of her generation (photo Getty Images)

“She’s been responsible for more Merry men than Robin Hood,” was a typical example.

Joan Rivers’ life and career were both about to take a turn for the worse. In 1986, she was approached by Fox TV, which was about to launch in the US.

Fox offered Joan Rivers her own late-night talk show, which would go out at the same time as Johnny Carson’s on NBC.

Johnny Carson, who found out about the move from Fox, rather than Joan Rivers herself, was furious. He never spoke to her again.

NBC also banned her from appearing on The Tonight Show, a ban that extended past Johnny Carson’s death in 2005.

Joan Rivers’ stint with Fox was to be short lived. Her husband Edgar Rosenberg, who had been producing her new show, was fired by Fox in 1987.

When she protested to Fox managers, she too was given her marching orders. Three months later, Edgar Rosenberg committed suicide.

Joan Rivers bounced back with her own TV show in 1989. The comedienne, who wrote most of the material, played herself, the sassy blonde delivering quick one-liners, and featured a roll-call of guests including Bob Hope, Dolly Parton and Liza Minnelli.

While following a familiar US TV daytime format, it was adjudged good enough to be nominated for a number of Daytime Emmy Awards.

Joan Rivers also made a name for herself in a series of red carpet interviews for an entertainment channel where she was able to indulge her sport of celebrity baiting.

She had signed up to do the show after discovering a failed business venture had left her millions of dollars in debt.

Joan Rivers also made a number of appearances in the TV drama Nip/Tuck, which was set in a centre performing cosmetic surgery.

It was an apt role for the comedienne, who made no secret of the numerous procedures she herself underwent. Indeed, they became part of her act.

“I wish I had a twin, so I could know what I’d look like without plastic surgery,” was one of her quips.

In February 2014, Joan Rivers finally got an invitation to come back on to The Tonight Show, her first appearance on the program for 30 years.

She told Variety magazine it was about time: “I’ve been sitting in a taxi outside NBC with the meter running since 1987.”

On August 28, 2014, Joan Rivers experienced serious complications, including stopping breathing, during throat surgery at a clinic in New York. She was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital and was put into a medically induced coma after reportedly entering cardiac arrest.

On August 30, it was reported that Joan Rivers had been put on life support.

Joan Rivers died at the age of 81 on September 4 at 1:17 PM.