This week we lost a Hollywood Legend, Joan Rivers passed away at just 81 years young. Joan was a force to be reckoned with in not only the entertainment industry, but in life. She was a trailblazer, a pioneer, for not only comedians but women, being told in the 60’s when performing in Greenwich Village coffee shops “You can’t say that you’re a woman” but she said it anyway and never looked back. She was a comedian, an actress, a talk show host, a businesswoman and a celebrity. With a no-holds-barred style of comedy, she was raunchy, snarky, hysterical and no one was safe not even herself. She had a loud raspy voice and a thick New York accent. She would say: “Life is tough, so you’d better laugh at everything” and she meant it. From early on she made fun of herself before anyone else ever could, if she was going to be the butt of a joke it had better be her own. Her honesty was refreshing, she never made excuses or apologies and she made herself a household name by saying what everyone else was thinking but didn’t dare to say. She once said:
“I’ve learned to have absolutely no regrets about any jokes I’ve ever done. You can tune me out, click me off, it’s OK. I am not going to bow to political correctness.”
Some would say she was vicious, but Joan was never full of hate nor evil, she lived to make people laugh, even at themselves and always laughed at herself first. In a world and industry full of lies and shame she joked about her own plastic surgery and troubles as much as she did others.
Everyone knows Joan Rivers name, everyone has laughed at one of her jokes, or maybe even just at her, but not everyone knows the kind of woman she was, the kind of heart that she had and just how inspirational she was to so many people, myself included.
Joan may be a household name, but it wasn’t always easy and it definitely wasn’t always pretty. Joan had a slow rise to stardom performing in small clubs, traveling on the road without her family but built herself up to stardom. Joan had ups and downs like the best of them. From plays and TV shows that had short success and ended in cancelation to being told she was unfunny, too funny, too old and too young. She always found ways to reinvent herself whether physically or in her career to stay in the game. Tragedy struck when her husband Edgar took his own life, and she and her daughter Melissa were left devastated and ruined. She was lost, her career over, her husband and partner gone, her daughter was fatherless and they were nearly broke. Joan was at times consumed by insecurity and described herself as shy finding it difficult to go out and talk to people one on one especially after Edgar was gone. They were not just husband and wife, they were partners, and they were a team.
She again started working her way back up to the top, a ride that started to look pretty good when she was starring in a Broadway play SALLY MARR…AND HER ESCORTS, which opened on May 5, 1994. Joan was even nominated for a Tony, she was finally feeling happy again for the first time since Edgar was gone, but that too was short lived and the show was suddenly closed with just two days notice. She once had a successful jewelry line with QVC but after a bad business deal, she was left with nothing, and found herself with debt from the same company that had offered her millions to buy her line. She had thought she was doing the right thing, getting an offer that would allow her to make sure her daughter never had a thing to worry about in the world and ended up worse off than she was before. Once again she found herself lost, she was a widow, lost her TV show, her play, her jewelry business and was unemployed at 60 for the second time in 30 years. But she never gave up she did what she does best, starting again to build herself back up in a fickle business.
To say Joan was hard worker may be the biggest understatement in the world, this woman never took no for an answer and always found a way to make it back where she belonged, making us laugh. Whether a Broadway play, a late night TV show, red carpet reports, movies, Fashion Police and even Hollywood Squares Joan never gave up and never took no for an answer, no job was beneath her and she put her all in to everything that she did. She was resilient, she had hit rock bottom several times but always with hard work, came up swinging.
More importantly over all of these things, Joan had a big, giant, wonderful heart. If you want to really know what Joan Rivers was like pick up her book titled “Bouncing Back” it is a wonderful, heartfelt brutally honest book about moving past disaster and on with your life. While it has those wonderful Joan moments we all either love or love to hate you get a side of Joan that most people don’t know. She traveled all over the country doing grief seminars using comedy and brutal honesty to help others move past the pain. Not only was it therapeutic for herself but helping others and listening to them share their stories had meant the world to her.
I was lucky enough to meet the Diva herself a few times over the course of my 8 years in Los Angeles, and I will still never forget the first time I saw her in person. I was in shock and so nervous to even utter a single word to her, if I could even speak English when I tried. I had grown up watching her, I adored her and in many ways she inspired me in life and in my career. I thought from watching her that she may be entirely unapproachable and possibly just a bitch, sadly you meet more people out here like that that not and nothing is more disappointing, so I almost walked away. But she was just standing there waiting for a friend to come back and I had to as Joan would say, “Grow some balls” and do it. I went over and introduced myself and thanked her for being the damn rock star she is and she smiled complimented my dress acting like she was not the funniest and smartest person in the room and we were chatting about LA, when she asked what brought me here. I told her my dream of becoming a TV host and love and passion for simply talking to people, we laughed about the industry, the town we lived in and the amount of bullshit we saw and heard on a daily basis. I asked her for a piece of advice and I will never forget what she told me it was to the effect of:
“Look at you, your young, gorgeous, your funny, your personable and your not just a pair of boobs you have a god damn brain on those shoulders and that my dear is hard to come by these days, so don’t you ever give up, don’t you ever take no for an answer, and when they tell you no, because those idiots will, say “Fuck You” and find someone who will tell you yes. Because nothing feels better than showing them you made it”
She was one of the kindest women I have yet to meet in this town. In the few short moments I had to speak with her I quickly understood just how special this woman was, beyond the comedy, beyond the TV shows she was just a special person. They were these really small moments in the grand scheme of things, but they were moments that shaped who I am, my work ethic, my career choices and my life. Joan Rivers was in many ways a hero to me. I was this girl from RI with a loud, obnoxious, raspy voice that was always saying what I wasn’t supposed to and constantly getting in trouble. I never felt like I really fit in anywhere and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. As I got older and experienced life I found myself more comfortable on a stage or on front of a camera than I do in small groups, I love to share stories, make people laugh, and be part of this crazy industry that lives to entertain the world. That is why Joan is and will always be a hero to me, she showed me how to dream, she gave me permission to be myself, to never take no for an answer and to make no apologies for being who I am. She paved the way for other so many talented women like Chelsea Lately and Sarah Silverman. Joan said “Life Is A Movie” and boy was she ever the star, there are not enough words to thank her for the gift she gave to us. I had dreamed of the day that I would work with her, share a stage with her, another laugh with her and together say a big “Fuck You” to everyone that told us no, we weren’t good enough and wouldn’t make it. While she may no longer be with us, she will always continue to make us laugh and her legacy will live on forever.
In her book titled I HATE EVERYONE…STARTING WITH ME Joan Rivers made it clear just how fabulous she wanted to leave this world and it is every bit is outrageous as she was:
“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.”
Always living to make us laugh. My thoughts and prayers are with all those who knew her, her friends and her family but most of all to Melissa. Melissa Thank You for sharing your mother and opening your life to the world for all these years. Thank You Joan, for making us laugh, for allowing us to dream and for being fabulous and hey, just think of how many more people you can flip off from up there.