An unparalleled legend in the entertainment industry, Joan Rivers was more than just a comedian – she was a force of nature. An internationally recognized celebrity, Emmy-award-winning talk-show host, Grammy-award-winning performer, Tony-award-nominated actress, bestselling author, playwright, screenwriter, film director, columnist, lecturer, radio host, jewelry designer, entrepreneur, and the renowned creator of the modern day “red carpet,” Joan was also the first woman to break the glass ceiling of male-hosted late-night television. Above all her accomplishments, she was most proud of her daughter, Melissa, and her grandson, Cooper.
A true New Yorker from the start, Joan Molinsky was born in Brooklyn on June 8, 1933 to Russian-immigrant parents Dr. Meyer and Beatrice Molinsky. The family eventually relocated to Larchmont, New York prior to Joan attending and graduating from Barnard College in 1954.
For over 50 years, Joan pioneered her own brand of irreverent, unconventional comedy, first enduring tawdry clubs, Borscht Belt showrooms, and grimy Greenwich Village cabarets. She was never one to give up and her relentless work ethic allowed her comedy to evolve, and her audiences continued to grow. She soon headlined in Las Vegas and throughout the United States, as well as in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and Canada.
Joan’s fame skyrocketed in 1968 when she first appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Within three years she was hosting That Show with Joan Rivers, one of the first syndicated daytime talk shows on the air, and made television history as the permanent guest host of The Tonight Show, where she coined her iconic catchphrase, “Can we talk?” In 1984, Joan received her first Grammy nomination for her gold-selling comedy album, “What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most?”
Joan helped launch the nascent Fox Network in 1986 with the debut of The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, and in 1989 she triumphantly made her mark on daytime TV with The Joan Rivers Show, winning an Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show Host.
In 1990, Joan launched the Joan Rivers Classics Collection of fashion jewelry, apparel and accessories on QVC. She constantly kept her finger on the pulse of the latest trends, and was widely considered to be one of America’s most visible, accessible, and authoritative fashion spokespeople. Her brand was an instant, enormous success and remains so today thanks to the continued hard work and leadership of Melissa Rivers.
Joan’s love and admiration of fashion didn’t stop with QVC. Armed with a microphone and her signature question, “Who are you wearing?” she turned walking the red carpet, the simple act of entering a building, into a star-studded event. Years after creating and hosting Live from the Red Carpet for the E! Network (1996-2004), Joan later returned to anchor their hugely successful franchise Fashion Police, hosting both its hour-long weekly broadcasts and its awards-season specials, reaching more than 10 million people worldwide. From hot new trends to red-carpet risks, Joan hilariously took viewers through a recap of the week’s celebrity fashion and ultimately decided who sizzled and who fizzled.
In 2009, Joan was not only honored during The Comedy Central Roast of Joan Rivers, she also starred in the second season of NBC’s hit reality-TV series The Celebrity Apprentice. Her emergence as that season’s victor was chronicled in the 2010 critically acclaimed, no-holds-barred documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.
Joan’s documentary launched a new phase of her career – this time in the world of reality television. Her popular show, How’d You Get So Rich?, which ran for two seasons on TV Land, took a candid look at the extravagant lifestyles of fabulously rich North American entrepreneurs and innovators. Joan and Melissa Rivers together dominated the world of reality TV during four seasons of their hit series on WEtv, Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best? The inimitable duo answered the question plaguing daughters since the beginning of time: Does mother truly know best?
Throughout her career, Joan was also a vastly accomplished author, penning 12 celebrated books. Her most recent work, Diary of a Mad Diva, was published in 2014 and instantly became a New York Times Bestseller. A recording of the audiobook version of Diva also earned Joan a posthumous Grammy Award in 2015 for Best Spoken Word Album. Joan’s other works include the bestselling I Hate Everyone… Starting with Me, her revered autobiographies Enter Talking and Still Talking, as well as Murder at the Academy Awards: A Red Carpet Murder Mystery, a work of fiction.
Joan continued to reach new audiences with the help of a vibrant, joke-filled Twitter feed, as well as the inception of her cutting-edge, independently produced weekly web series, In Bed with Joan, featuring intimate interviews with actors, singers, internet superstars and rising comics. Launched in 2013, in its first year alone, In Bed with Joan garnered critical acclaim and industry accolades.
No stranger to the world of animation, in addition to lending her unique voice to Shrek 2 and Spaceballs: The Animated Series, Joan received a Daytime Emmy Award nomination in 2009 for her portrayal of “Bubbe” on PBS’ award-winning animated children’s series Arthur. In 2011, she voiced “Annie Dubinsky,” the hard-talking agent of “Krusty the Klown” on The Simpsons.
Since she was a child, Joan’s passion and love was always live theatre. Besides being an ardent fan of plays and musicals, Joan appeared on Broadway three times – her first venture taking place in 1975 when she co-wrote and starred in Fun City. In 1986, she returned to the Great White Way, starring in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound, and in 1994, she co-wrote and starred in Sally Marr and her Escorts, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play.
Joan also explored deeply personal theatrical endeavors, including Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress, which she co-wrote and starred in. The show began as a limited workshop engagement in San Francisco in 2007 before opening to rave reviews at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. In 2008, Joan took the show overseas for a sold-out run during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, moving on to a highly successful limited run in London’s illustrious West End.
Despite being constantly in motion, Joan worked tirelessly on behalf of charities that were close to her heart: God’s Love We Deliver, Guide Dogs for the Blind and The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She also dedicated herself as a longtime spokesperson for both the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
Joan passed away on September 4, 2014 in New York City. Her enduring legacy as an entertainer and as a humanitarian lives on.