If you’re a Fashion Police fanatic/Joan Rivers fan, turn on E!, because the network is running an all-day marathon of the show in memory of Joan right now. Joan’s daughter Melissa will appear on special tribute episode at 8 PM ET.
When I started this blog in 2007, its motto was “Wear What You Want” — my way of encouraging peeps to defy what I called the “self-appointed fashion police who snark on anyone who shows a little creativity.” This August 26, as I watched the official Fashion Police show on the MTV Video Music Awards and the Emmys, I thought, for the zillionth time, that I really needed to write a post clarifying that Joan Rivers was not the target of my anti-policing wrath (okay, just this time). Joan was a comedian doing outrageous schtick. (Her unfunny E! cohosts — Kelly Osbourne and Giuliana Rancic — them I have a problem with. I usually enjoy the third cohost, George Kotsiopoulos, because he’s more open-minded and less whiny.)
If Joan had had the late-night network show as she deserved, she’d be riffing off all kinds of current events in her monologue. But, because late night is firmly in the hands of white men in suits, Joan had to focus her talents on the traditionally feminine — and therefore overlooked and disrespected — topic of fashion.
For the zillionth time, I thought, “I’ll get around to writing that post … someday.” I felt like I had all the time in the world because Joan seemed unstoppable. I figured her competitive spirit meant she’d at least tie Betty White for career longevity and Betty is 92. Joan was only 81. I had 11 years to write that post! Except, as we all know, I didn’t. The head of the clinic where Joan went into cardiac arrest after a routine throat endoscopy has already stepped down. Joan’s personal throat doctor, Gwen Korovin, is denying reports that she performed an unauthorized procedure during an examination of Joan’s vocal cords or snapped a selfie of Joan when the star was under sedation. Exactly what happened is still under investigation.
If you want to understand what Joan was like in her later years, watch the 2010 documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, which reveals the comedian’s obsession with working as well as her commitment to her charity work.
To understand what a groundbreaker she was, read the condescending 1965 New York Times review that called Joan “…an unusually bright girl who is overcoming the handicap of a woman comic, looks pretty and blonde and bright and yet manages to make people laugh.” (The review went on to use the word “bright” a third time!)
Here’s Joan on the Ed Sullivan show in 1967 talking about how men have it easier than women when it comes to dating. Note that she says girls have to be “bright”!
Joan came so close to being a big late-night star. After getting her break on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in February 1965, she became his permanent guest host in 1983. She did so well that Fox gave Joan her own show in 1986, opposite Carson’s. It ended in disappointment: She was fired in under a year due to sagging ratings and Carson never spoke to her again. Turning a career downturn into tragedy, Joan’s husband, who’d produced her show, committed suicide just months later. Fox should have stuck it out, the way NBC did in the 1990s when Conan O’Brien’s first show debuted to poor ratings. (Men in suits always catch a break — except when it comes to the crown jewel of the Tonight Show, of course.) You can see how great she was as a host in this 1987 clip of her with the Beastie Boys. She’s like their glamorous, sophisticated aunt, poking fun at them but giving them their moments too. She also gave them her desk!
Joan and her daughter Melissa were estranged after the suicide of Rosenberg, Joan’s husband and Melissa’s father, but they overcame it with therapy. As Joan said recently:
“We’re very close. We have nobody else: she has me and I have her. I think it’s going to be very difficult when I die, very hard for her … Your child is never not your child. You can be 90 and your mother 120, but your mother is still worried about you.”
I believe Melissa is going to be okay because her mother set such a fine example of overcoming hardship and getting up after falling down. (If you lose your TV show, design jewelry!) Immediately after her mother’s death, Melissa said, “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.” And Melissa did indeed have me laughing — and crying a little — with the letter to Joan that she read at Joan’s funeral, which was the star-studded gala of her mother’s dreams. Joan had been staying at Melissa’s Los Angeles home and Melissa started with:
“Mom: I received the note that you slipped under my bedroom door last night. I was very excited to read it, thinking that it would contain amazing, loving advice that you wanted to share with me. Imagine my surprise when I opened it and saw that it began with the salutation, ‘Dear Landlord.'”
When you read the whole letter, the warmth and humor of their relationship becomes clear. Not every kid can handle an outrageous parent, but Melissa clearly was doing just fine.
E! just aired the Fashion Police Grammys 2012 show and it concluded with Joan’s tribute to Whitney Houston, who died the night before the Grammys. She said, “Though we won’t see her on the red carpet again, she will always be in our hearts.” Same to you, Joan. Same to you.