Comedienne Joan Rivers Dies At 81

Comedienne and E! Entertainment star Joan Rivers died Thursday after complications from throat surgery last month, according to published reports.

The veteran comic and host of E!’s reality series Fashion Police never recovered after going into cardiac arrest during throat surgery on Aug. 28. The 81-year old comedienne was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital after the surgery where she was placed into a medically-induced coma.

Her daugther Melissa Rivers released the following statement: "It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother. 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. Cooper and I have found ourselves humbled by the outpouring of love, support, and prayers we have received from around the world. They have been heard and appreciated. 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."

Rivers was a comedic pioneer both on stage and on television during her multi-decade career. In recent years, Rivers was also well known for the red carpet coverage and commentary she provided for TV Guide Channel and E! and also was the host of Fashion Police. She also hosted an online talk show, In Bed With Joan, and co-starred with her daughter on the WE tv reality show, Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best. 

Her career began in theater and stand-up, but she caught the national spotlight when she appeared on NBC’s The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson in 1965. She subsequently became Carson’s official fill-in, a role she played rom 1983-86 until she launched a rival talker, The Late Show on Fox in 1986. The move soured Carson and also kept her from appearing on the Tonight shows helmed by Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien. She didn’t return to NBC’s late-night leader until Jimmy Fallon made his hosting debut last February.

CBS said David Letterman, during the taping of tonight’s Late Show With David Letterman, commented: “Here’s a woman, a real pioneer for other women looking for careers in stand-up comedy. And talk about guts – she would come out here and sit in this chair and say some things that were unbelievable, just where you would have to swallow pretty hard… but it was hilarious… the force of her comedy was overpowering.”

E! Entertainment and NBCUniversal released this statement on Rivers' passing: “E! and NBCUniversal send our deepest condolences to Melissa, Cooper and her entire extended family on this incredibly sad day.  For decades Joan has made people laugh, shattered glass ceilings and revolutionized comedy.  She was unapologetic and fiercely dedicated to entertaining all of us and has left an indelible mark on the people that worked with her and on her legions of fans. She’s been a much beloved member of the E! family for over 20 years and the world is less funny without her in it.  Today our hearts are heavy knowing Joan will not be bounding through the doors.” E! Online also posted a tribute to Rivers.

Discovery Group president Henry Schlieff, a longtime friend of Rivers, said in a statement: “I knew Joan for more than 30 years and while we all recognized her incredible humor and extraordinary work ethic, I can honestly say that her greatest qualities were her loyal friendship and incredible exuberance for life: her intelligence was exceeded only by her genuine warmth.  Indeed, Joan broke down so many barriers in her career and had so many projects yet to come. I join all Joan’s friends and fans in sending my love to Melissa – and, our prayers that she finds some consolation in the knowledge that we all share in her loss.”

One of the first celebrities to pitch products on a home shopping network more than two decades ago, Rivers built a multi-million jewelry, apparel and accessory business on QVC. And even when she wasn’t on the home shopping network, she actively promoted her products, wearing them on not only Fashion Police but during her appearances on other TV shows and for photographs. With Rivers’s death, QVC will have to decide how to proceed with her collection, which is so closely tied to the oft-times controversial entertainer.

“She has been a special part of our QVC family for 24 years, and we knew Joan not only as an extraordinary comedian, writer, producer and business leader, but as a generous and caring spirit, who inspired us to be better every day,” QVC president and CEO Mike George said in a statement. “Joan truly loved her customers, and delighted in bringing joy and inspiration to their lives over these last many years.”

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.