Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Joan Rivers Dead at 81 in Medical Mishap of the Worst Kind


Joan Rivers was cheated out of a good ten years last week. The clinic where she technically “died” — and now thanks to them, is dead– is going to be investigated. Joan performed last Wednesday night, saw friends at dinner, and was in great shape. When she joked that she was 81 and “could go at any time” she was kidding. But did she have an inkling of something bad about to happen? We will never know. We’ve really lost a great voice, and one that has helped form American culture for the last 50 years.

I met Joan when she and Edgar started their late night show on Fox. People were afraid to cross Johnny Carson and bring them guests. But I had celebrity authors at the Atlantic Monthly Press in 1986, and Johnny wasn’t going to take them anyway. So I called Joan up, and she said, essentially, bring everyone. The two I recall most vividly were Paloma Picasso– they talked jewelry– and Peter Ustinov– very very funny with Joan.

Barry Diller was lurking around the hallways, and Edgar didn’t look well. His eyes were hollow. On one occasion we had dinner with them. Joan was also exhausted. But for a short time her ratings were good, and everyone was excited. It didn’t last long.

After Edgar’s suicide, Joan returned to New York. When she had her daytime show — this was circa 1989-90 — I was often a guest. Marlaine Selip was the producer. The show was a lot of fun and Joan won an Emmy. I was in the green room for a taped show when Angela Bowie, David Bowie’s ex wife, unmuzzled after 10 years, told Joan she found David and Mick Jagger in bed together. There were huge headlines the next day. It didn’t hurt that Howard Stern was on that day too.

Joan was a regular at Elaine’s. Barbara O’Connell, Elaine’s assistant, recalled today that Joan used to bring jewelry from her collections for the waiters to give to their wives as presents. Her best pals were Cindy Adams, and Judge Judy. They went to the theater together and out to dinner. A couple of years ago, at a party for Joan’s documentary (now so glad she did it) everyone turned out. There was a lot of reminiscing. It did feel like Joan had been part of our consciousness forever.

With Joan Rivers, there was a lot of bluster and loud noise if you only knew her from TV. I was lucky that I knew her a little, not like the inner circle but just someone she recognized and was happy to see. When she hosted the Johnny Carson show in the early 80s on Monday nights, no one was funnier or smarter, hands down. And what a great thing that Jimmy Fallon and Lorne Michaels brought her back twice this year after her falling out with Johnny in 1985.

If Melissa listened and learned, and I’ll bet she did, she’s ready to run her mother’s business and keep her flame burning. Joan devoted her whole life to Melissa. What a terrible thing she’s had to do. She’s lost not only her mother but her best friend.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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