Joan Rivers, TV and comedy trailblazer, dies at 81


(JTA) — Joan Rivers, who broke barriers for women in comedy and on television, has died.

Rivers, 81, died Thursday a week after being rushed to Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital after her heart stopped during throat surgery at a clinic. Doctors at the hospital put her in an induced coma from which she never awoke.

“My mother’s greatest joy in life was to make people laugh,” her daughter, Melissa, said in a statement on the Joan Rivers website. “Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon.”

Rivers, who launched her career in the 1950s, was among a handful of female standup comics – Phyllis Diller was another — whose raunchy and blisteringly honest takes on married life broke barriers in the 1960s.

Her gossipy trademark line, “Can we talk?,” was an invitation to truth telling about the high and mighty, but also no-holds-barred self-deprecation.

Her scathing remarks on celebrity anticipated the coruscating Internet culture of decades later – one that she embraced.

“I love the Internet,” she told the Boston Globe last year.

She was one of Johnny Carson’s favored guest hosts on “The Tonight Show” until she launched a failed attempt to compete with him in the 1980s.

The notion that a woman could carry 90 minutes by herself paved the way for others in the TV business.

Rivers was a pioneer in reality programming, first in red carpet fashion commentary at Hollywood events (joined by her daughter) and then in a reality series about her loving but fraught relationship with her daughter. She hosted the show “Fashion Police” on the E! network.

In recent months, she drew attention for her robust defenses of Israel during the summer’s Gaza War and her takedowns of celebrities who criticized Israel.

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