Joan Rivers is dead, and I am absolutely devastated.
This is something that I’m somewhat embarrassed about because it doesn’t make all that much logical sense.
It’s not like I knew her, or was ever in her presence — save the time I saw her throw it down during her “Can We Talk” phase circa 1982, when she gave everyone from Liz Taylor to Heidi Abromowitz (the tramp and “poster girl for herpes”) a kick in the ass with her heavy-duty silver-tipped tongue.
I have to admit she lost me somewhat in her fashionista stage of recent years. With all due respect to her QVC line — which in my opinion was amazing for business savvy of it, not so much the style — to Fashion Police, I rarely tuned in. Then again, when I did, the zingers were just as stunning as always (i.e., on Rihanna: “Why the green lips? It looks like she just [bleep] the Grinch. Talk about Christmas coming early.” And my personal favorite in recent history, on Lea Michele at the Teen Choice Awards: “She looks like a porn star. You know the kind of porn stars who aren’t the prettiest, so they do crazy stuff like amputee gang bangs?”).
But the thing that gets me about Joan (and I’m guess you, too), beyond the fact that she was the High Priestess of Bitch’in Humor, were the things that we knew about her that were the tough, yet so very relatable flip side of the funny coin: how her friend and mentor Johnny Carson repaid her “betrayal” of launching her own late night show by never speaking to her again. The suicide of her husband. The myriad times she was kicked to the curb for being a bawdy, brassy, bitchy babe. The ups and downs of her career, the need for constant reinvention, the all-consuming devotion she had to her work. (Best seen and understood in the 2010 documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Run, don’t walk, to rent, stream, watch, and enjoy.)
While the fact that she was a trailblazer for all women, and shared her triumphs and her devastating losses in a way that only a strong, X-chromosomal toting person can, it was in those touching, sweet moments that Joan felt not like some distant star, but quite literally like someone who could be, well, ours.
For me, it was her relationship with her daughter Melissa that got me. Having played it out so much in the public eye, you could see that the two had their moments but regardless, their devotion to each other was palpable. Touching and sweet, fiercely loyal, and underneath it all, sealed with genuine respect and deep, unconditional and unabiding love.
So true, so personal, and so much how I feel about my own mother.
We can be each other’s best friend and sometimes toughest critic, but we make each other laugh and remind one and other that no matter what, nothing is more valuable and more worth fighting for than family. If only we had our own show on E!…
So maybe that’s why when the horrible news first broke of the tragic outcome of Joan going in for a simple, outpatient endoscopy (indeed, she was scheduled to perform the following night), and ending up in a medically induced coma, I quickly fell into an obsessive habit of Google searching every few hours for a glimmer of hope.
And then came the PR-friendly statements from Melissa on her mom’s website, www.JoanRivers.com and social media, the last of which 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.
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.”
We will return, but we will never be the same. And when she is buried on Sunday, I will pause and send a loving prayer of support and comfort to her daughter, grandson, and all who loved her. And for Joan I fervently pray that Meryl Streep is there, crying in five different accents.
For you, my Bitch’in friends, here’s one from the vaults — the aforementioned “Can We Talk” era, before Joan had more plastic in her than the Mattel factory: