Renowned female comedian Joan Rivers died Thursday afternoon, and the world of comedy and entertainment endures another huge loss. Rivers, 81, had been taken into Mount Sinai Hospital in New York last Thursday after complications during a procedure on her vocal cords. The doctors at Mount Sinai placed Rivers into a medically induced coma. After being placed on life support, she never woke up.
Rivers was the manifestation of all our self-loathing. Of our feelings of inadequacy and our desires to change. She was the one who reminded us that we were imperfect. Yet, there’s something about Rivers that many people had come to love and to hate. She was never going to tell you that she was perfect. Joan Rivers was widely criticized for her obsession with fashion and plastic surgery, but she didn’t do it to please anybody. She did it because she felt like there was something about herself that she needed to work on, to improve. In many ways, it’s a direct allegory to her entire career.
After entering the public eye in 1965 on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” Joan’s career took off. Throughout her 55 years in the business, Rivers saw her share of ups and downs. But at no point during her best years did she think she was good enough and at no point during her worst years did she ever give up. Rivers knew what it was like to work hard and she understood the nature of the comedy industry: You’re popular, and then you’re not. She didn’t take this as an opportunity to slow down or settle.
Rivers had a falling out with Carson after starring in her own late night show on a competing network, which then flopped. Her husband committed suicide around the same time, and she became estranged from her daughter. But Rivers wasn’t discouraged from the industry and personal setbacks. She persisted year after year until she was back in the public eye. She spent the last few years of her life starring on the widely publicized E! talk show, “Fashion Police.” She died where she always wanted to be, in the spotlight.
Rivers wasn’t the first female comedian and she certainly won’t be the last. What set her apart from everyone else was the fact that she could never stop working. Whenever she was asked when she would retire, she would answer, “And do what?” Rivers was never finished. With her passion and work ethic, she paved the way for female comedians everywhere and served as an inspiration for others, like Roseanne Barr, Kathy Griffin and Sarah Silverman.
Many found Rivers to be abrasive and many found her critiques on celebrities’ personal lives unsavory, but that’s just what Rivers did. She was one of entertainment’s bitchiest, but that’s why people loved her. She was brutally honest, but she was also fair. Perhaps the title of her 2012 bestseller puts it best: “I Hate Everyone…Starting With Me.” Rivers didn’t hold anyone to higher standards than she held herself to. If there was a flaw, a problem or a faux pas, she was going to say something and it was going to be funny. She never stopped telling jokes. Everything she did was an attempt to make you laugh, to keep you entertained.
Rivers was put on this earth to make people laugh and for 55 years, she did just that. She never quit her dream, she never gave up and she was funny to the very end. We ought to remember her like this.
“My mother’s greatest joy in life was to make people laugh,” said Melissa Rivers, Rivers’ daughter. “Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon.”