• Farewell, Joan. (1933 – 2014)

    The so-called "Queen of Mean" is laid to rest

    If the death of Robin Williams signified the end of an era, what can possibly be said about Joan Rivers? The 81-year old comedienne extraordinaire passed away on Thursday, but she leaves behind a staggering body of work that spans five decades. One simple YouTube search of her name yields more than 841,000 results. We can probably spend the next 81 years reliving the magic of her one-of-a-kind comedy catalog.

    Interestingly, Joan Rivers was not her birth name. She was born Joan Alexandra Molinsky. But her agent, Tony Rivers, convinced her to take a stage name. And in classic Joan fashion, she took his.

    It was another great comedian, Bill Cosby, whom Joan credited with helping give her her first break. She once recalled, “The night before I went on Carson, a comic bombed and Bill Cosby — who was white hot at that moment — he had seen me in the Village and he said to them, ‘You might as well use Joan. She can’t be any worse than the guy you had on last night!’” The rest, of course, is late night history, as Rivers soon became Johnny’s fill-in host, unbeknownst to him. Carson was so intimated by her that he never spoke to her again. And that was just the beginning.

    Apart from being perhaps the most talented female comic of all time (in addition to one of the most talented comics period), Rivers was a shrewd businesswoman as well, and she had a work ethic like no other. I recall the scene in her 2010 documentary, A Piece of Work, in which Joan revealed her card catalog full of jokes. It turned out that she had physically written out every joke she’d ever created on index cards, and kept them all meticulously filed away in 12 drawers. She even had them organized by category, such as “age” or “plastic surgery.” That’s how seriously this woman took her work: she never wanted to lose anything that she created. We’re talking about a woman who claimed to have read encyclopedias in order to prepare for her one-line jokes on Hollywood Squares. Now that’s dedication. I can only imagine the hours she spent pouring through magazines and newspapers to learn virtually everything about every celebrity in Hollywood. You can’t honestly think that she pulled all of that brilliance out of thin air. No, she worked as hard as anyone, and left this earth with the 3×5 cards to prove it. I can only assume Joan’s comedy catalog will go on display in some museum where it rightfully belongs.

    It didn’t matter whether Rivers was roasting celebrities on the Red Carpet with daughter Melissa or playing the C-3PO-inspired “Dot Matrix” in Mel Brooks’ classic spoof, Spaceballs. She always considered herself a show-business professional. Beyond that, Joan was open about everything, including her own plastic surgeries. And it was that openness that afforded her the opportunity to not only make fun of others, but also herself. To my knowledge, she never apologized for a joke. She knew that would be the death knell of the comedy profession, and she inspired a legion of future comedians to never sink into the lame trap of political correctness. Would there be a Louis C.K. today without Joan Rivers?

    Joan’s life was also touched by tragedy, as many great comics’ experiences are. Her husband committed suicide in 1987, and she later revealed that she considered ending her own life as well. But she said it was her dog, Spike, that saved her. “I was sitting in this big empty house in Bel Air, with a phone with five extensions which we no longer needed. I had the gun in my lap, and the dog sat on the gun. I lecture on suicide because things turn around. I tell people this is a horrible, awful dark moment, but it will change and you must know it’s going to change and you push forward. I look back and think, ‘Life is great, life goes on. It changes.”

    Joan was a huge animal lover, and reportedly set aside portions of money in her will for her numerous pets (though her propensity for wearing fur coats was often a source of criticism).

    And what of death itself? Well, of course, Joan had some thoughts on that subject. In her 2013 book, I Hate Everyone…Starting With Me, she opined on the funeral that she’d like to have:

    When I die (and yes, Melissa, that day will come; and yes, Melissa, everything’s in your name), I want my funeral to be a huge showbiz affair with lights, cameras, action…I want Craft services, I want paparazzi and I want publicists making a scene! I want it to be Hollywood all the way. I don’t want some rabbi rambling on; I want Meryl Streep crying, in five different accents. I don’t want a eulogy; I want Bobby Vinton to pick up my head and sing “Mr. Lonely.” I want to look gorgeous, better dead than I do alive. I want to be buried in a Valentino gown and I want Harry Winston to make me a toe tag. And I want a wind machine so that even in the casket my hair is blowing just like Beyoncé’s.”

    Rest in Peace, Joan Rivers. You will always be a true original.


    Matt Fox

    Senior Editor

    Fox has history in broadcasting that spans two decades. From his early days as an FM host and club DJ in the mid-90′s to his later experiences in political talk radio, he has always had a knack for combining topical news with his love for popular culture. Those experiences culminated in his position as executive producer for several radio shows featured in the TALKERS Heavy 100. Originally from New York, Fox has made the great pilgrimage down to sunny south Florida.

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