Joan Rivers was more than just another funny face, one that she joked she'd someday donate to Tupperware. She actually was A Real Piece of Work.
The outspoken veteran comedian, loved and loathed the world over for her witty, cut-to-the-bone humor, died at 1:17 p.m. ET today in her native New York City a week after she went into cardiac arrest during vocal cord surgery. She was 81 years old.
Whether she embraced it or not, Rivers was a feminist, glass ceiling-smashing entertainment industry trailblazer from the get-go. Her 1959 debut role in showbiz -- when the gravelly-voiced Jewish Brooklynite played a lesbian with a crush on a character portrayed by the still-undiscovered Barbra Streisand in Driftwood -- was beyond risqué for its time. She was only getting started.
Inspired by the gutsy comedy of Lenny Bruce, Joan Rivers (born Joan Alexandra Molinsky) went on to become a bold, brassy fixture on American TV, evolving from a side show act to eventually headlining her own late night show and gracing every imaginable red carpet event in between. Her career was a nonstop raucous comedy steamroll spanning five successful decades in all. And she said she never wanted to be a comedian.
"When I started out, a pretty girl did not go into comedy," Rivers recalled in a hilarious and heartbreaking article she penned in 2012 for The Hollywood Reporter. "If you saw a pretty girl walk into a nightclub, she was automatically a singer. Comedy was all white, older men… I didn’t even want to be a comedian. Nobody wanted to be a comedian!"
And what a comedian she was. The world will be a hell of a lot less funny without her.
In honor of the strides she forged for women, and in memory of her legendary role in comedy, here are 12 of Joan Rivers’ wisest quotes:
1. "I believe in telling it like it is. I’ve always been a no-holds barred type of person. I let it all hang out. I’m in bed eating Cheetos. How’s that for telling it all? Who else would admit that over the phone?"
2. "I succeeded by saying what everyone else is thinking."
3. "I've learned: When you get older, who cares? I don’t mince words, I don’t hold back. What are you gonna do to me? Fire me? It’s been done. Threaten to commit suicide? Done. Take away my show? Done! Not invite to me to the Vanity Fair party? I’ve never been invited!"
4. "You know you’re getting old when work is a lot less fun and fun is a lot more work."
5. "I’ve learned to have absolutely no regrets about any jokes I’ve ever done."
6. "Never be afraid to laugh at yourself, after all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century."
7. "People say that money is not the key to happiness, but I always figured if you have enough money, you can have a key made."
8. "I think of opening doors not just for women comedians — I never think about women. I think just [that I'm] always trying to push for myself, push the boundaries [and] make them listen. Make them listen to the truth and laugh about it."
9. "When people hate me, that’s good. They know I’m there. You’re not a chorus kid. Remember in A Chorus Line, she’s having trouble and he keeps saying, ‘You’re standing out,’ and she’s trying not to? They hate me? That’s good."
10. "I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can't make it through one door, I'll go through another door — or I'll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present."
11. "Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is God's gift. That's why we call it the present."
12. "I enjoy life when things are happening. I don't care if it's good things or bad things. That means you're alive. Things are happening."