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R.I.P. Joan Rivers

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.

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Reader Comments (15)

One of a kind,the funniest woman i have ever known,loved her from the mid 80'sad she went when the fire was still burning,life is a true mystery,you never know when your numbers up,poor melissa xx.

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark
September 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Wonderful woman. Original, hilarious, and, I suspect, a loving friend.

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

Very well put

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Sad news. I discovered Joan quite recently -yes, that's possible. She's not that famous in Europe- thanks to the documentary that Nathaniel profusely recommended it.

I think it is one of those rare figures in showbiz that can only be described as one of a kind.

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

This is so very awfully sad. It's been coming for a week but even that time is not enough to process the shock of her loss. She was a fireball, the greatest stand up comedian I've ever seen. When people say she was the funniest person they've met, they're serious. One needs only to look at any of her interviews to realize.

Regardless of what people think of her and her recent comments (yawn), we just lost the most influential woman in late-night television history, and one of the greatest comedians of all time (for my money the greatest, at least in stand up). Her wit, talent and longevity were astounding, and she broke down a remarkable number of boundaries too. People love to remember her as a mean-spirited bully, but forget the extraordinary dedication she had to hundreds of charitable causes (LGBT youth, suicide survivors, the homeless, cancer, etc etc etc). Not just her money, but a great deal of her time. Lovely and beautiful woman as she was hilarious. She was also a good actress, a phenomenal writer, a maverick businesswoman, one of my favourite talk show hosts (one of the few who could just gab without any pre-prepared conversations and kill it every single time), and an impressive survivor. Not many people would be able to lose their job, their fame, their career, and then have their husband commit suicide and leave them and their family bankrupt in one big hit, and then move on and make something of themselves all over again. Really an inspirational businesswoman and human being.

I recommend anybody watch the mid-2000s An Audience with Joan Rivers, she's (as always) extremely funny, but ultimately very moving as well. As well as Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, as you've already mentioned.

Rest in peace, funny lady. You will be terribly missed.

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

It will seem strange that she's gone. Almost as long as I can remember, all the way back to the 70's, she's been around, talk shows, game shows, performing at theatres near me and everywhere else, a very real force of energy.

I watched A Piece of Work last year and it was impressive to see her professionalism and can do attitude. The only thing I found disconcerting was her addiction to cosmetic surgery, I have nothing against it, however it's too bad she didn't know when or was unable to stop.

It's a sad day for her family certainly but short of dropping on stage I think this would be the way she wanted to go. Active almost to the end.

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I know we're not supposed to be shocked when people in their 80's and 90's pass, but I was absolutely devastated by this news. The fact that she was working right up to the end of her life is a testament to the kind of woman she was. The documentary "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" is as much heartbreaking as it is hysterical. It is criminal that it was not recognized with an Oscar nomination.

It's so hard to process her demise, feeling so gutted. But every time I start to tear up, I remember how much she would want us all to laugh through this pain and remember her comedy.

Love you Joan! See you in Heaven kiddo :)

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Among her many varied accomplishments, she, along with Helen Reddy, were the first two women to be named permanent substitute hosts of The Tonight Show. As far as I know, they were the only ones to be so honored. A very, very funny lady.

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

It does speak volumes about her vibrancy that people are surprised that an 81-yr-old died.

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBia

i cant believe this. its not gonna hit me for awhile I think.
love you joan

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpoppy

I saw her guest-hosting the Tonight Show back in the 80s (yes, I am that old). I've never laughed so hard. Even people who find her standup hilarious may have forgotten what a great, generous interviewer she was, as good as Carson in my opinion. She always made her guests look good.

Ironic, given her recent reputation for being mean on the red carpet. She was dishing it out to millionaire celebrities with teams of well-paid stylists. They really should have been able to take a joke.

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBiggs

A true trailblazer, icon and legend. I am sad. RIP Joan.

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Thank you Paul Outlaw for posting that pic from "The Swimmer"--Rivers has a tiny, 2-minute part as an East Coast matron whom Lancaster tries to woo away from her safe, plastic little world at a pool party. Rivers has the brown eyes of a wounded faun, and she's remarkably direct and heart-tugging as she wonders why this crazy man is coming on to her and what he wants; it could've been an indicator of what she might have done in serious dramas. But though she wasn't always nice or kind in her comedy, my God, she could make me laugh--helplessly. Like, weeping, gasping, hysterical laughter. What a great gift.

Rivers: "Marry rich!!...then buy him a pacemaker, sneak up and yell 'BOO!'"

September 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDback

Two (three) of my favorite Rivers from years ago.

Liz Taylor is so fat. When mosquitoes see her they scream BUFFET!!

You know you are fat when you wear white pants to a party, bend over and they start showing home movies on your ass.

The Royal family are such dogs. Oh come on! Go out in the street and yell Queenie, Duke and Prince and see what you get. (She debuted that one in London.).

I saw her on Broadway in Brighton Beach. She was terrific. And Biggs is right, she was a very kind and generous interviewer.

Her appearances on Graham Norton are legendary. No filter.

September 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

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