Comedian Joan Rivers dead at 81

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...

Comedian Joan Rivers dead at 81
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 11: Joan Rivers performs on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW. Image dated December 11, 1966. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - CIRCA 1965: Comedian Joan Rivers poses for a portrait circa 1965 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
American commedienne and entertainer Joan Rivers jumps into the air, her purse over an outstretched arm and a wig in her other hand, as she tries to hail a taxi from the side of the road, New York, New York, March 1966. (Photo by Truman Moore/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Headshot portrait of American comedian Joan Rivers leaning her face against her fist, 1960s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Overhead view of American commedienne and entertainer Joan Rivers as she lies in a bathtub and talks on the telephone, New York, New York, March 1966. Rivers is wearing a black dress with mesh sleeves and high heels. (Photo by Truman Moore/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Comedienne Joan Rivers talks about her upcoming Broadway play, "Fun City," in New York City, Nov. 4, 1971. Rivers will star in the play, which she co-wrote. (AP Photo)
Comedienne Joan Rivers is shown in Los Angeles, Ca., April 12, 1965. (AP Photo/Dan Grossi)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 17 -- Pictured: Joan Rivers during the 'Old Age Home' skit on April 9, 1983 -- Photo by: Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
Joan Rivers makes it quite clear - she’s starting a new syndicated talk show and its name is "The Joan Rivers Show," in Los Angeles, Aug. 15, 1989 (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: (l-r) Comedian Joan Rivers, host Johnny Carson on Ocotber 5, 1976 -- (Photo by: Ron Tom/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Joan Rivers during Opening Night Performance of 'Marilyn' - February 20, 1985 at Area Nightclub in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 1970: Comedienne Joan Rivers performs live in November 1970 in New York City, New York. (Photo by I.C. Rapoport/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - 1985: Comedian Joan Rivers poses for a portrait in 1985 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images)
Francesco Scavullo, Joan Rivers, and Melissa Rivers (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
American comedian Joan Rivers, circa 1985. Photographed in California by Harry Langdon. (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
Joan Rivers and Husband Edgar Rosenberg during 'The Bounty' Westwood Screening at Coronet Theater in Westwood, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
LONDON -: Singer Boy George and actress Joan Rivers at the Park Lane Hotel in 1984, London. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
Comedienne Joan Rivers, right, waves as she shares a parade ride through Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass., as part of the festivities connected to the naming of Rivers as “Woman of the Year" by Hasty Pudding Theatricals, the Harvard University drama group, Feb. 15, 1984. At left is John Isham, a Harvard senior from Newport, R.I. (AP Photo/Ted Gartland)
Comedian Joan Rivers and Barry Diller, chairman of Fox Inc., arrive for news conference in Los Angeles to announce that she will host a live talk show on Fox Broadcasting Co. that will compete with late night king Johnny Carson, May 6, 1986. Miss Rivers will lead the attack for Fox Broadcasting Corp’s new fourth network. (AP Photo/Jim Ruymen)
Comedienne Joan Rivers shown with ?Hulk? Hogan in 1985. (AP Photo)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: (l-r) Actress Betty White, guest host Joan Rivers on September 28, 1983 -- (Photo by: Joseph Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Joan Rivers (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 01: Joan Rivers 4/1/1987 (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 1970: Comedienne Joan Rivers with daughter Melissa at home in November 1970 in New York City, New York. (Photo by I.C. Rapoport/Getty Images)
New York Post columnist Joey Adams gets a birthday kiss from comedienne Joan Rivers at his 80th birthday celebration at the Helmsley Hotel in New York, Jan. 8, 1991. (AP Photo/Mark Phillips)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 09: Joan Rivers (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - 1987: Comedian Joan Rivers poses for a portrait in 1987 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 09: Joan Rivers (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 09: Joan Rivers (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 09: Joan Rivers (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Joan Rivers (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Joan Rivers during Birthday Party for Joan Rivers 'Sally Marr and Her Escorts' Cast Party - June 8, 1994 at Helen Hayes Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Joan Rivers during Birthday Party for Joan Rivers 'Sally Marr and Her Escorts' Cast Party - June 8, 1994 at Helen Hayes Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Joan Rivers (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
Melissa Rivers and Joan Rivers during 55th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Arrivals at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Chris Weeks/FilmMagic)
Joan Rivers during The 55th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Arrivals at The Shrine Theater in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 16: TV Guide Channel Host Joan Rivers arrives to the 62nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel January 16, 2005 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)
Comedian, talk-show host and power shopper Joan Rivers takes on a new role as she applies makeup prior to a rehearsal in New York on Thursday, April 7, 1994. Rivers is preparing for her return to Broadway in, ?Sally Marr and her escorts.? The play, directed by Lonny Price, is the true story of the burlesque comic Sally Marr who was also the mother of controversial comedian Lenny Bruce. It is scheduled to open on May 5. (AP Photo/Ed Bailey)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 24: Joan Rivers and Melissa Rivers seen at SiriusXM Studios in New York City on March 24, 2014. Credit: RW/MediaPunch
Television personality and entertainer Joan Rivers tours backstage with her camera crew before the Badgley Mischka Fall 2012 collection is shown during Fashion Week in New York, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
RIDGEWOOD, NJ - JULY 01: Joan Rivers promotes 'Diary of a Mad Diva' at Bookends Bookstore on July 1, 2014 in Ridgewood, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael N. Todaro/FilmMagic)
RIDGEWOOD, NJ - JULY 01: Joan Rivers promotes 'Diary of a Mad Diva' at Bookends Bookstore on July 1, 2014 in Ridgewood, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael N. Todaro/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 30: Media personality/comedian Joan Rivers speaks to fans during her visit at Barnes & Noble Union Square to sign copies of her Book 'Diary Of A Mad Diva' on June 30, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: (L-R) Melissa Rivers and Joan Rivers attend the 2014 NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Upfronts at The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on May 15, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)
TV personalities Melissa, left, and Joan Rivers pose for a portrait Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)
Joan Rivers and Melissa Rivers during The 77th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals at Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Chris Polk/FilmMagic)
Joan Rivers during The 57th Annual Emmy Awards - Arrivals at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Joan Rivers during Gala Opening of The JCPenney Experience on Broadway at One Times Square in New York, New York, United States. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/WireImage)
Joan Rivers arrives at the QVC Red Carpet Style at the Four Seasons Hotel on Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Joan Rivers Attends The 2007 British Academy Television Awards Sponsored By Pioneer At The Palladium In London. . (Photo by Antony Jones/UK Press via Getty Images)
Joan Rivers during Opening Night Party for the Off-Broadway Musical 'Altar Boyz' at Dodger Stages then Crobar in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
American comedic artist Joan Rivers poses for photographers as she presents "Comedy Roast with Joan Rivers" during the 25th MIPCOM (International Film and Programme Market for TV, Video, Cable and Satellite) in Cannes, southeastern France, Monday, Oct 5, 2009. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
Joan Rivers at the Central Park in New York City, New York (Photo by Jemal Countess/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, FL - MARCH 02: Comedian Joan Rivers performs at the Hard Rock Live at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on March 2, 2008 in Hollywood, Florida. (Photo by Larry Marano/Getty Images)
Comedian Joan Rivers appearing in the Superstar Theater at Resorts Atlantic City on Friday October 20, 2006 (Photo by Tom Briglia/FilmMagic)
**FILE**Joan Rivers blows kisses on arrival at the Primetime Emmy Awards on Sept. 18, 2005, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The 72-year-old red-carpet critic and comedian said she and assistant Matt Stewart created a profile for her on Match.com. "We were hoping to meet Mr. Right," Rivers told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "We didn't even get a wink."(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Pictured: Joan Rivers -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
FILE - In this Sunday, July 26, 2009 file photo, Joan Rivers greets the audience at the "Comedy Central Roast of Joan Rivers" in Los Angeles. Rivers, the raucous, acid-tongued comedian who crashed the male-dominated realm of late-night talk shows and turned Hollywood red carpets into danger zones for badly dressed celebrities, died Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. She was 81. Rivers was hospitalized Aug. 28, after going into cardiac arrest at a doctor's office. (AP Photo/Dan Steinberg, File)
Myrna Patrich places flowers at a sidewalk memorial for comedian Joan Rivers at the doorstep of her apartment building, Friday, Sept. 5, 2014 in New York. Rivers died Thursday at a New York hospital following complications from surgery. She was 81. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)
A note and flowers are part of a sidewalk memorial for comedian Joan Rivers at the doorstep of her apartment building, Friday, Sept. 5, 2014 in New York. Rivers died Thursday at a New York hospital following complications from surgery. She was 81. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)
Paula Reardon places flowers at a sidewalk memorial for comedian Joan Rivers at the doorstep of her apartment building, Friday, Sept. 5, 2014 in New York. Rivers died Thursday at a New York hospital following complications from surgery. She was 81. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION


By LYNN ELBER

Joan Rivers, the raucous, acid-tongued comedian who crashed the male-dominated realm of late-night talk shows and turned Hollywood red carpets into danger zones for badly dressed celebrities, died Thursday. She was 81.

Rivers was hospitalized last week after she went into cardiac arrest at a Manhattan doctor's office following a routine procedure. Daughter Melissa Rivers said she died at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, surrounded by family and close friends.

"My mother's greatest joy in life was to make people laugh," Melissa Rivers said. "Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon."

Rivers - who made "Can we talk?" a trademark of her routines - never mellowed during her half-century-long career. She had insults ready for all races, genders and creeds. She moved from longtime targets such as the weight problems of Elizabeth Taylor, of whom she said "her favorite food is seconds," to newer foes such as Miley Cyrus, and continued to appear on stage and on TV into her 80s.

Comedy was not only her calling, but her therapy, as she turned her life inside out for laughs, mocking everything from her proclaimed lack of sex appeal ("My best birth control now is just to leave the lights on") to even her own mortality.

"I have never wanted to be a day less than I am," she insisted in a 2013 interview with The Associated Press. "People say, `I wish I were 30 again.' Nahhh! I'm very happy HERE. It's great. It gets better and better. And then, of course, we die," she quipped.

With her red-carpet query "Who are you wearing?", the raspy-voiced blonde with the brash New York accent also helped patent pre-awards commentary - and the snarky criticism that often accompanies it, like cracking that Adele's Grammy wardrobe made the singer look like she was sitting on a teapot. Rivers slammed actors at the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes for E! Entertainment. In 2007, Rivers and her partner-in-slime, daughter Melissa, were dropped by their new employer, the TV Guide Channel, and replaced by actress Lisa Rinna. But they found new success on E! with "Fashion Police," which Rivers hosted and her daughter produced.

No performer worked harder, was more resilient or tenacious. She never stopped writing, testing and fine-tuning her jokes.

"The trouble with me is, I make jokes too often," she told the AP in 2013, just days after the death of her older sister. "I was making jokes yesterday at the funeral home. That's how I get through life. Life is SO difficult - everybody's been through something! But you laugh at it, it becomes smaller."

She had faced true crisis in the mid-1980s. Edgar Rosenberg, her husband of 23 years, committed suicide in 1987 after she was fired from her Fox talk show, which he produced. The show's failure was a major factor, Rivers said. Rosenberg's suicide also temporarily derailed her career.

"Nobody wants to see someone whose husband has killed himself do comedy four weeks later," she told The New York Times in 1990.

Joan Rivers Dead At 81

Rivers had originally entered show business with the dream of being an actress, but comedy was a way to pay the bills while she auditioned for dramatic roles. "Somebody said, `You can make six dollars standing up in a club,'" she told the AP, "and I said, `Here I go!' It was better than typing all day."

In the early 1960s, comedy was a man's game and the only women comics she could look to were Totie Fields and Phyllis Diller. But she worked her way up from local clubs in New York until, in 1965, she landed her big break on "The Tonight Show" after numerous rejections. "God, you're funny. You're going to be a star," host Johnny Carson told her after she had rocked the audience with laughter.

Her nightclub career prospered and by late that year she had recorded her first comedy album, "Joan Rivers Presents Mr. Phyllis and Other Funny Stories." Her personal life picked up as well: She met British producer Rosenberg and they married after a four-day courtship.

Rivers hosted a morning talk show on NBC in 1968 and, the next year, made her Las Vegas debut with female comedians still a relative rarity.

"To control an audience is a very masculine thing," Rivers told the Los Angeles Times in 1977. "The minute a lady is in any form of power, they (the public) totally strip away your femininity - which isn't so. Catherine the Great had a great time"

In 1978, she wrote, directed and co-starred in the movie "Rabbit Test." It had an intriguing premise - Billy Crystal as a man who gets pregnant - but was poorly received. In 1983, though, she scored a coup when she was named permanent guest host for Carson on "Tonight."

Although she drew good ratings, NBC hesitated in renewing her contract three years later. Fledgling network Fox jumped in with an offer of her own late-night show.

She launched "The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers" on Fox in 1986, but the venture lasted just a season and came at a heavy price: Carson cut ties with her when she surprised him by becoming a competitor.

Carson kept publicly silent about her defection but referred obliquely to his new rival in his monologue on the day her show debuted.

"There are a lot of big confrontations this week," Carson said as the audience giggled expectantly. "Reagan and Gorbachev, the Mets versus the Astros, and me versus `The Honeymooners' lost episodes."

Her show was gone in a year and she would declare that she had been "raped" by Fox; Three months later, her husband was found dead.

It took two years to get her career going again, and then she didn't stop. Rivers appeared at clubs and on TV shows including "Hollywood Squares." She appeared on Broadway and released more comedy albums and books, most recently "Diary of a Mad Diva."

Rivers once joked that there was not "one female comic who was beautiful as a little girl." She was born Joan Molinsky in Brooklyn to Russian immigrants Meyer Molinsky, a doctor, and Beatrice. Rivers had a privileged upbringing but struggled with weight - she was a self-proclaimed "fatty" as a child - and recalled using make-believe as an escape. After graduating from Barnard College in 1954, she went to work as a department store fashion coordinator before she turned to comedy clubs. She had a six-month marriage to Jimmy Sanger.

In recent years, Rivers was a familiar face on TV shopping channel QVC, hawking her line of jewelry, and won the reality show "Celebrity Apprentice" by beating out her bitter adversary, poker champ Annie Duke. In 2010, she was featured in the documentary "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work."

She never let age, or anything, make her sentimental. Earlier in 2014, she got inked: a half-inch-tall tattoo, "6M," on the inside of her arm representing 6 million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust. In 2013, she brashly pledged to work "forever."

"You never relax and say, 'Well, here I am!'" she declared. "You always think, `Is this gonna be OK?' I have never taken anything for granted."

Survivors include daughter Melissa and a grandson, Cooper.

More from AOL.com:
Fans, celebs mourn Rivers' passing
Joan Rivers: Best Highlights (VIDEO)

Read Full Story

People are Reading