The Rivers still flow: a Joan Rivers commemoration
This time last year, I was shocked and saddened to hear that my friend, the legendary actress, comedienne, television host, writer, and producer Joan Rivers, had died. As the details surrounding her untimely death began to emerge, many of us found ourselves confused and angry that a routine procedure–a common endoscopy—could go so terribly wrong. It was this tragedy that prompted me to write about end-of-life care issues last September. Rivers had suffered breathing complications, and though she was resuscitated, her health continued to deteriorate after being transferred to a nearby hospital. She was put on life support and passed away just over one week later, surrounded by her daughter Melissa and other loved ones.
Iconic media figures such as Kathy Griffin, Amy Schumer, Oprah Winfrey, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Nancy Reagan, among others, have continually paid tribute to Joan Rivers, citing her as a major influence to their own aesthetics and someone who paved the way for women and the comedic circuit as a whole. The magnitude of her accomplishments can’t be easily summarized, but as the first woman to host a late night talk show, Rivers’ legacy continues as a woman who broke the glass ceiling of television comedy. Her famed career has been extensive, spanning decades, with routines as relevant today as when they first debuted.
Beyond this, Joan Rivers was a caring and compassionate woman, a stark contrast to her famously ornery character. Rivers supported many causes, from human rights campaigns and disaster relief to LBGT issues and gender equality, and she had a strong reputation for her generosity. This generosity continues even now after she is gone, her last wishes granting funds to several charities and to the long-time staff she considered family. But Rivers’ shared more than just her money. She gave her time each Thanksgiving day to deliver food to those in need. Despite her fortune and fame, Joan Rivers was always approachable. She was real.
For all these reasons we continue to mourn not only the loss of a talented, larger-than-life entertainer but also the loss of a genuine personality. Rivers’ daughter and comic sidekick Melissa recently said, “[My son] and I talk a lot about what would be the best way to honor her legacy, and the best way to honor her legacy is to be OK.” For Melissa, part of that process is finding her own voice and continuing to entertain. Fashion Police, the popular E! series that Rivers’ hosted, will resume this Monday evening after a lengthy hiatus, where Melissa will resume her mother’s role and restore those words of wisdom, brutal honesty, and undeniable wit and charm that audiences from around the globe have come to adore.