By now, I imagine most of you have heard that Joan Rivers passed away today, at 81 years old, following complications from throat surgery. The loss is doubly shocking - not just because it came about so abruptly, without any history of health problems, but because Rivers was still such a prickly, alert life force: in her reliable appearances at red carpet events and her E! television presence, she had the same quick, tart wit that made her a pop culture mainstay for a solid half-century.
Rivers' presence in cinema was limited compared to her TV and stand-up: several cameos as herself, both in live-action and animation, and a part in Mel Brooks' sci-fi parody Spaceballs as a sarcastic robot make up virtually all of her movie roles of note. She did, however, appear as the subject of the 2010 documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, a remarkably intimate and comprehensive look at her career from the earliest days. It's available for viewing on Netflix, and if you haven't seen it yet, I'd highly recommend it: its presentation of the aging Joan as unapologetically confident and aware of her own mind is bracing and hilarious, and the volumes of vintage footage of a much younger Rivers in the early days of her standup showcases a biting, shockingly fresh voice that those of us who only ever knew the comedian thanks to her latter-day profession as living punchline could hardly imagine.
The world is not full enough of women who get a chance to speak truthfully, angrily, and boldly about their minds, and can be absolutely hilarious while doing it, and a true icon has been lost today. The Film Experience expresses our condolences to Joan's family, and we keep them in our thoughts.