Let’s face it, making it to 81 is an accomplishment. But working all the way up to pretty much your last days and having contributed a consistent, topical and always-so-funny view to the world, not to mention fulfilling the true promise of Art in America, well we should consider the passing of Joan Rivers in a very big way.
Was Rivers ‘fashionable’ in the normal definition of that term? Probably not (though she did sport wonderful style and could dress with the best of them). In fact there were times she held a pariah-like status in her industry. But don’t the great ones usually fly in the face of fashion, buck trends, create their own paths, make a mark marching to their own truth?
First and foremost, the lady was funny. She began in a time when women were not supposed to be funny…in that way. You had women on T.V. like Lucille Ball or in movies but very few women got up on a night club stage and were bawdy, topical…brash. Beginning her professional showbiz career in a play opposite Barbra Streisand (Rivers played a lesbian with a crush on Streisand’s character), Rivers appeared at those iconic New York Greenwich Village clubs, “The Bitter End” and “The Gaslight Café” etc., then began appearing on the truly first ‘punked’ show “Candid Camera.” In 1965 she made her first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and then the “Tonight Show,” starring Jack Parr. It was through her association with Johnny Carson, who later took over as host of the famous late night show, where Joan became a consistent guest then the show’s permanent guest host in 1983.
There was Carson drama and industry ostracizing when Rivers went to develop her own late night show at Fox (short lived though it was); her husband Edgar’s suicide; mocking of her QVC television jewelry line (which she did happen to make a few bucks from!); her admitted excessive plastic surgeries, but the lady worked throughout the decades. She published countless books, worked nightclubs, guested on T.V. shows, acted in plays (some of her own making) and became-agree with her or not-the arbiter of modern day celebrity fashion (how’s that for the unfashionable becoming fashionable!) on her red carpet hit and misses E! T.V. show Fashion Police.
The world is a little less funny today with the passing of a true American legend, Joan Rivers.