Joan Rivers dead: Comedian dies in New York, aged 81

The comedian was known for her sharp-tongued and controversial routines

The controversial comedian Joan Rivers has died a week after suffering a heart attack during a routine procedure at a clinic.

Shortly before her death, Ms Rivers, the first woman to break into late-night comedy, was moved from intensive care into a private room and was surrounded by family and friends when she died.

Her daughter, Melissa, announced the death, in a New York hospital, in a short statement in which she said: “It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers.

“She passed peacefully at 1.17pm surrounded by family and close friends. My son and I would like to thank the doctors, nurses, and staff of Mount Sinai Hospital for the amazing care they provided for my mother.

“My mother's greatest joy in life was to make people laugh. Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon.”

Read more: Her most controversial moments
Obituary: Rivers' huge talent was fuelled above all by anger
Joan Rivers' most controversial moments
Joan Rivers' best jokes
Tributes pour in for Joan Rivers

She had been in intensive care for a week after stopping breathing at a clinic during a routine procedure. The New York state health department is investigating the circumstances surrounding her collapse.

In tributes she was described by Will Smith as “the Queen of comedy”, by William Shatner as “a comedic legend” and by Ricky Gervais as, “Funny & fearless. Truly one of a kind.”

Whoopi Goldberg, who followed her into comedy, wished her, “Bon voyage” while Cindy Lauper said: “She inspired me. She made me laugh since I was a kid, I loved her so much.”

The novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford said: “Joan was a great friend to have. Aside from her humour and comedic talents, she also made her friends laugh in private. Hospitable and generous to a fault, she was loyal and always there for all of us. She will be terribly missed.

“Just imagine: we won't hear those witty, sometimes caustic, but always funny one-liners ever again. Goodbye Joan Rivers. You'll always be in our hearts.”

Rivers, with the catchphrase “Can we talk?” was known for an acerbic and uncompromising humour, often foul-mouthed and far from politically correct. Elizabeth Taylor's weight problems were a favourite target - “Her favourite food is seconds.”

Earlier this year she explained: “I mock everybody, regardless of race, creed or colour. Every joke I make, no matter how tasteless, is there to draw attention to something I really care about.”

She said one of her motivations was that by mocking something it would become less of a threat: “If you laugh at something, you shrink the dragon.”

As a comedian she regarded nothing and no one as off-limits, even being happy to seek humour out the Holocaust and figures such as Anne Frank.

But she was also ridiculed herself and frequently sought to do so, especially her face-lifts and plastic surgery - “When I die they will donate my body to Tupperware.”

At school in New York she was “the class wit” but went on the study for degrees in English and anthropology after her father threatened to have her committed if she trained as an actress.

She attributed much of her success to her “immigrant mentality”, having been born to Russian immigrants in America in 1933, and said she got her sense of humour from her father, a doctor.

Her big break in showbusiness came in 1965 on The Tonight Show: Starring Johnny Carson and was later given the role of permanent guest host on the show.

By the 1970s her “Can we talk?” catchphrase was known across America and in 1986 she was given her own talkshow in opposition to Carson's - he never talked to her again. By then she was one of the best know comedians in the country and played to packed audiences at Carnegie Hall.

Her first marriage, to James Sanger, lasted just six months but after a four-day courtship she went on to marry Edgar Rosenberg, a British television producer. He killed himself in 1987 and Rivers was so devastated that she became bullemic and considered suicide herself.

She recovered and continued to work until her death. In July she told the Toronto Star: “I'm terrified if it looks like nobody wants me. How long will that go on? Forever. In our business, you never know.... And it's not the money. I joke about that enough but that isn't what drives me. I love the performing. I love the work.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before