She was a mother, a wife, a comedienne, a talk show host, an author, and a pioneer and model for talented women who were willing to work—hard—to have the careers they always wanted and not let any man get in their way. She was a brash, brassy broad, in the best and worst possible ways—she said what was on her mind, said it loud and proud and shouldered the consequences as they came. Joan Rivers died today, at the age of 81. Her comedy was brutally honest, demanding, critical and confrontational—with tag lines like “Oh, grow up!” and “Can we talk?”—and she played a game that, up until that point, was only being played by men (Don Rickles comes to mind). As a guest-host on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, she asked intimate questions, made bold proclamations and shook up the celebrities and the staid talk-show format in the process.
Rivers was a complicated woman with a complicated sense of self, at least so her many plastic surgeries and frequent criticisms of her own body would suggest. But she told it like it is, she lived a fearless, full life, amassed a $290 million fortune and kept her career chugging successfully for nearly six decades, far after her contemporaries had faded away. Whatever you may think of Joan Rivers, her in-your-face, take-no-prisoners style paved a way for women in comedy and women everywhere and showed that balls-out ambition was not just for the boys.
Here are the 7 moments we’re remembering her by today.
Her amazing early standup, on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” in 1967
Talking to Johnny Carson about her career:
Her glam, girly side, with Miss Piggy on “The Muppets”
On “Today” show in 1986, “I’m a lucky lady”
“What we do is a calling” —explaining comedy to Louis C.K.
Shutting down a heckler, explaining everything about comedy in the process
Her historic return to “The Tonight Show”