Joan Rivers was a renowned American comedian, TV host, writer, and actress. Her brand of comedy consisted of scathing one-liners and no individual or topic is spared. She hosted her own talk shows in the 80s and 90s and was a pioneer for women in stand up comedy. She was the first woman to host a late night network television talk show and in 2017, Rolling Stone rated her 6th on its list of the 50 best stand-up comics of all time. Get to know more about the life and death of the raspy-voiced comedian as well as her husband, daughter and net worth.
Joan Rivers’ Bio
Joan Alexandra Molinsky was born on the 8th of June 1933 in Brooklyn New York. Her parents, Beatrice and Meyer C. Molinsky were Russian Jews who had immigrated to the States and she had an elder sister named Barbara Waxler. The young Rivers grew up in various parts of Brooklyn. For her education, she attended the Brooklyn Ethical Culture School and Adelphi Academy of Brooklyn, graduating from the latter in 1950. She finished her schooling at Barnard College where she studied English Literature and Anthropology. While there, she was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa society and graduated summa cum laude in 1954.
Growing up, Rivers wanted to become an actress. However, her parents preferred her in a ‘respectable profession’ and insisted on her getting a college education. On finishing school, she worked regular 9-to-5 jobs but her true love was still calling to her. At a point, she had no choice but to quit and focus on her acting. She took acting classes and appeared in several plays. Her agent, however, advised her to go into comedy as she had the talent for it. That same agent also advised her to change her name and she became Joan Rivers. She started performing at various comedy clubs in Greenwich Village, a Mecca for budding artists.
Joan Rivers finally got her big break in 1965 when she was given a place on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson; she had previously auditioned for the show on many occasions but was turned down. She was given a six-minute spot and she seized it, delivering an unforgettable performance that prompted Carson to declare that she was going to be a star. And become a star, she did. From being made a permanent guest host of The Tonight Show in 1983, she got her own shows including The Late Show With Joan Rivers and The Joan Rivers Show.
From talk shows, Rivers started hosting the red carpet at various award ceremonies for E! and TV Guide. She revolutionized such events, developing the iconic question Who are you wearing? Rivers also expanded her repertoire to movies, TV series, and shows including Fashion Police, where she delivered damning verdicts on celebrity fashion. The Brooklyn native also wrote several best selling books and released successful comedy albums. For her work, Rivers has received numerous honors and awards. They include the 1984 Grammy Award for best comedy album (What becomes a semi-legend most?), the 1984 Woman of the Year award by Harvard Hasty Pudding Theatricals Society, 1990 Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding talk show host, the 2015 Grammy Award for best spoken word album (for her book Diary of a Mad Diva). Additionally, she received a star on the Hollywood walk of fame in 1989 and was inducted into the television academy hall of fame in 2017.
Joan Rivers’ estate is reportedly worth $150 million. She left her fortune to her daughter, grandson, long-time staff and her niece and nephew (the two children of her late sister). She also left a pretty sum for the various charitable organizations she supported such as Guide Dogs for the Blind in California, The Jewish Guild for the Blind in Manhattan and God’s Love We Deliver (a food bank).
Rivers made her fortune from her TV shows and bestselling books. However, the vast majority of her fortune did not come from comedy but from her royalties from the QVC shopping channel. She started designing clothes, jewelry, and beauty products for the channel in 1990 and by 2014, sales of her products had exceeded $1 billion.
How Did She Die?
Joan Rivers died on the 4th of September 2014. Her death was caused by a complication she suffered while undergoing a routine operation on her vocal cords on the 28th of August at a clinic in New York. She suffered fatal brain damage during the procedure at Yorkville Endoscopy and was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital where she died seven days later. Her death led to an outpouring of tributes from many Hollywood heavyweights including Amy Schumer, Oprah Winfrey, David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel etc.
Other notable figures who paid tributes to her include Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Nancy Reagan and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Prior to her death, the comic had quipped that she wanted her funeral to be a big Hollywood affair with ‘Meryl Streep crying in five languages’. She got her wish as her funeral was attended by some of the biggest names in Hollywood. The memorial service took place at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan on the 7th of September 2014.
The official investigation into her death revealed that the clinic was at fault and made several mistakes during the course of her procedure. Her daughter, Melissa filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the clinic. It was settled out of court in May 2016 for an undisclosed amount.
Joan Rivers got married twice when she was alive. Her first marriage was to James Sanger in 1955. It was dissolved after six months on the ground that Sanger did not want kids and did not inform Rivers of this prior to the marriage. Ten years later in 1965, Rivers got married to Edgar Rosenberg, a British producer based in the States. The marriage lasted for 22 years and came to an end when Rosenberg committed suicide in 1987. The marriage produced a daughter, Melissa Rivers, born on 20th of January 1968.
Daughter – Melissa Rivers
Melissa Rivers is Rivers’ only child. She is an actress and television host. She has appeared in several TV series such as Beverly Hills, 90210, Silk Stalkings, The Comeback. She collaborated with her mother to co-host red carpet shows. She and her mom also had a reality TV show, Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? The show ran from 2011 to 2014 and chronicled their professional, personal and social lives. The relationship between mother and daughter wasn’t always cordial. Following Rosenberg’s suicide in 1987, the pair became estranged as Melissa blamed her mom for her dad’s death. They, however, reconciled years later. Melissa Rivers got married in 1998 to John Endicott. The marriage produced a son, Edgar Cooper Endicott (born in 2000) and came to an end in 2003.