Comedienne and TV icon Joan Rivers died today in Manhattan, The New York Times reports. She was 81.
Rivers’ daughter, Melissa, confirmed her mother’s death.
“Ms. Rivers died at Mount Sinai Hospital, where she was taken last Thursday after reportedly losing consciousness while undergoing a procedure on her vocal cords at a doctor’s office on the Upper East Side. Doctors at the hospital placed her in a medically induced coma,” The Times reports.
An official for the State of New York said today that the State Health Department is investigating the circumstances leading up to Rivers’ death.
The Times piece adds: “Vivacious even as a nipped-and-tucked octogenarian, flitting from coast to coast and stage to studio in a whirl of live and taped shows, publicity stunts and cosmetic surgery appointments, Ms. Rivers evolved from a sassy, self-deprecating performer early in her career into a coarser assassin, slashing at celebrities and others with a rapier wit that some critics called comic genius in the bloodletting vein of Lenny Bruce. Others called it downright vicious. But if she turned the scowlers off, she left millions in stitches.”
Rivers’ most high-profile role in recent years was as a celebrity fashion critic on her E! Entertainment show “Fashion Police.” She also starred along with her daughter on the WE tv reality show “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?”
The Wall Street Journal notes: “One of comedy’s most recognizable faces — thanks in part to a series of plastic surgeries she made fun of as much as her detractors did — Ms. Rivers rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s on the talk-show scene, injecting crass and controversial jokes into the buttoned-up, male-dominated network shows.
“After first appearing on ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’ in 1965, Ms. Rivers started a talk-show career that included stints on ‘The Tonight Show’ and ‘The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers’ on Fox in 1986. When she launched the rival program, she said Mr. Carson, her mentor, never spoke to her again.”
Her Fox show bombed, after which Rivers, by her own account, was virtually blackballed from television.
The Los Angeles Times quotes Rivers telling the TV Academy in 2011: “My career was nowhere. I could not get arrested.”
The L.A. Times adds: “A less-driven performer might have skulked off into obscurity. But Rivers … was nothing if not ambitious. The comedian who had started out telling jokes at Greenwich Village nightclubs in the 1960s reinvented herself as an acerbic red-carpet host for E! Entertainment, skewering celebrities and their fashion choices with help from her sidekick and only child, Melissa Rivers. Along the way, the pair helped build pre-awards show hosting into a cottage industry.”
The L.A. Times report also notes: “Rivers’ life was marred by tragedy, notably the 1987 suicide of her manager and second husband, Edgar Rosenberg.”