I remember growing up and seeing Joan Rivers on TV. My mom, an import from the very blue collar northern parts of England, always considered herself quite proper, in spite of her humble beginnings. She had "Victorian values" and was often willing to describe herself as a "prude."
I cannot tell you how many times I would be sitting in the living room and my mom would be watching -- in shock -- Joan Rivers being interviewed on one of the many popular talk shows at the time. It did not matter what program it was: The Mike Douglas Show, Merv Griffin, the list goes on; if Joan was on, my mom would be watching. She always displayed disgust, even as she tried to hold her laughter, during Rivers' "potty mouth" act. She would anxiously turn up the volume, while sincerely asking, "why do they allow such on TV?"
Some of Rivers' memorable quotes include:
"It's been so long since I made love, I can't remember who gets tied up."
"I like colonic irrigation because sometimes you find old jewelry" and my personal favorite...
"My love life is like a piece of Swiss cheese. Most of it's missing, and what's there stinks."
Pretty offensive stuff. My mom was disgusted, "be quiet dear and turn up the TV." "Yes, mom."
Rivers was one of those people who could continuously reinvent herself as necessary. She got herself a degree in English, but aspired towards a career in acting. Instead, she found herself as a pioneer among female stand up comics. Although this never translated into cinematic success, it did lead to a busy career in the talk show circuit. This led to huge success as she eventually became the "permanent guest host" of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. These were, respectively, the most important program and person in the late night television universe. Concluding that Carson would never give up his post and getting a call from Fox to do a talk show of her own, Rivers gave up her role with Carson. She would soon find out that she also gave up the relationship with Carson himself. Her new show simply did not cut it and was canceled after a year. Shortly after that, her beloved husband (and butt of many of her jokes), Edgar Rosenberg, committed suicide and left Rivers on her own, without work, and in financial ruin. Her old mentor, Johnny Carson remained forever bitter over Rivers' departure from The Tonight Show and would have nothing to do with her. She was entirely on her own.
Undeterred, Rivers became the voice of fashion, covering red carpet events while combining an uncanny knowledge of the industry with her biting humor. Showing up at a red carpet event in the wrong dress could be very dangerous, if Rivers was covering it. In addition to covering major celebrity events, Rivers also became the poster child of QVC (one of the many consumer shopping networks), spending two decades on the channel selling her own line of jewelry, clothing, and other accessories. Rivers was tough and resourceful. She was willing to do almost anything in order to take care of her daughter and herself. She proved to be very successful in her own, unique, way.
Rivers was not only shocking in her humor and unusual career path, but even in her death.
Every year we hear of celebrities that have passed away. The vast majority of them seem to have "departed" before they died. They had suffered from long term bouts of drugs and alcohol, or they would be hit with a terrible illness long before their passing, or they would simply fade away. So often we say, "I thought that person was already dead!" That was not the case with Joan Rivers.
With her sudden departure it has become difficult to turn on the TV without seeing another tribute to the comedienne. In one interview, not too long ago, she told the reporter, "what I really fear is this" and she opened up a calendar book with empty pages. If that book ever became empty, she said, her life would have been for nothing. She never had that problem. The day after her common endoscopy that eventually led to the complications that took her life, she was scheduled for a comedy show and her "book" was filled with such events for months to come.
Rivers has shocked us again, dramatically exiting just when we all were expecting more. Shocking people may very well be the thing that she did best.
"Hey mom, can I watch Laugh-in tonight?" "Don't be daft, Kevin, that show is garbage, and please hush up, Joan Rivers is back on." Shockingly, even my prudish mother found Rivers entertaining, even if she could never admit it.
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