Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers

Date of birth: 08-06-1933
Joan Rivers was born in Brooklyn, to immigrant Russian Jews, grew up in suburban New York and educated at Connecticut College and Barnard College, Manhattan.

She started comedy in the Fifties, and spent a decade ‘enduring humiliation and privation playing tawdry clubs, Borscht Belt hotels, and Greenwich Village cabarets’.

But her persistence paid off, and in 1965 got her first TV break when she appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Within three years she was given her own daytime talk show – That Show With Joan Rivers – and by the Eighties she was the permanent guest host on the Tonight Show whenever Carson was away.

In 1986 she had an ill-fated six-part chat show for the BBC, taking its title from her 'Can we talk?' catchphrase, a registered trademark in the US. Today the show is mainly remembered for Peter Cook being wasted as her sidekick.

That same year, she was given her own late-night chat show on the new Fox network – but Carson was so upset by what he saw as her betrayal after a 20-year friendship that he banned her from his show forever. The two never reconciled before Carson’s death 2005.

That was followed by another self-titled daytime talk show, which ran from 1989 until 1994, and won her an Emmy award.

In 1987, she suffered personal tragedy when her husband Edgar Rosenberg, a British TV producer, killed himself, devastating Rivers, who developed bulimia and contemplated her own suicide. But she eventually turned the tragedy into typically uncompromising and uncomfortable comedy.

She took a diversion from comedy in 1990, launching her own line of jewellery for the QVC home shopping channel. It was widely seen as a tacky move, but it was certainly a lucrative one – achieving more than $500million of sales.

Rivers was also known for her bitchy commentaries about celebrity fashions on the red carpet before glitzy showbiz events. She worked with her daughter Melissa for the E! channel from 1996 to 2004, then moving to the TV Guide channel for two years. In Shrek 2, she cameoed as an animated version of herself, parodying this role.

Rivers is also known for her bitchy commentaries about celebrity fashions on the red carpet before glitzy showbiz events, latterly with her daughter Melissa. In Shrek 2, she cameoed as an animated version of herself, parodying this role.

Rivers is an unashamed advocate of plastic surgery, which became a staple of her self-deprecating stand-up. She once joked: 'I’ve had so much plastic surgery, when I die they will donate my body to Tupperware.'

And in 2010 she was the subject of a revealing documentary of her life, A Piece Of Work.

She died in a New York hospital in September 2014 after she went into cardiac arrested and stopped breathing during a routine medical procedure on her throat.

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Joan Rivers' personal archives to be published

'Revelatory' book out in October

A new side of Joan Rivers is to be revealed in a new book, compiled from her previously unpublished personal archives.

The hardback contains scripts, letters from famous friends, exchanges with fans, rare photographs, and jokes she scribbled on everything from hotel stationery to airplane boarding passes. 

Described as a ‘revelatory and humour-filled insider look’ at the comedian’s life, the book has been compiled by Rivers’ daughter Melissa.

In an interview with Bravo TV, she said: ‘My parents kept tremendous archives and files. My friend, Scott Currie, who is like my brother, realised that there was an amazing book here. 

‘We went through all of the archives, basically from the 1950s forward and made it a scrapbook of her entire career, with things that have never been seen before. It’s fascinating because it's very much a social commentary.

‘I found the mid to late 1960s to the 1970s fascinating. She was always finding her voice and pushing the envelope, starting to talk about things that were totally taboo. 

‘When my mother was pregnant with me, for example, she was on The Ed Sullivan Show. You were not allowed to use the word "pregnant." You had to say, "I’ll be hearing the pitter patter of little feet soon"… Then you jump forward to The Johnny Carson Show in the 70’s, and they are talking about much more aggressive things on being a parent or motherhood, that people didn't talk about. It’s really fascinating to look at that.’

Joan Rivers Confidential, subtitled 'The unseen scrapbooks, joke cards, personal files, and photos of a very funny woman who kept everything', will be published by Abrams on October 24. Click here to order in advance.

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Published: 3 Aug 2017

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