Joan Rivers, who passed away Thursday at age 81, has been called a lot of things by a lot of people (including herself) — but one thing everyone should be able to agree on is that the comedy legend was, if nothing else, resilient.
Johnny Carson famously took her under his wing when he put her on The Tonight Show, and then infamously never spoke to her again when she left to headline her own late-night show on Fox. Starting in the late 1980s, he hosted a daytime talk show, appropriately (if not very creatively) entitled The Joan Rivers Show, which ran for five years and won her a Daytime Emmy. She has also written a slew of best-selling books, appeared in movies and plays, and won Season 8 of The Celebrity Apprentice.
But things weren't always rosy for Rivers, who managed to rub some people the wrong way with her crass comedy style and burn some bridges (like with Carson) along the way. By the 1990s, it seemed like Joan needed a new strategy to stay relevant — and, because she is Joan Rivers, she found one.
In 1994, she hosted her first Golden Globes red carpet for E!, though it was hardly a sought-after gig. "Melissa knew someone at E!," Joan revealed to Vanity Fair of how the assignment came about. "And they were saying, 'Who should we put out on the red carpet?' It is a horrible job and no one was doing it then. And Melissa said, 'My mother.'" Laughing, Joan added, "It was a very low time for me [in my career]."
It may have been an undesirable job, but Joan seized the opportunity and not only ran with it, but transformed it. By the time the 1995 Oscars rolled around, Melissa was by her side during the event, adding a mother-daughter element to the mix.
"Joan and Melissa were the first people who came out and made it more of a true conversation between star and reporter," Gary Snegaroff, E!'s senior VP of production, recalled. "They asked about what [actresses] were wearing because that's what the magazines would cover after the fact, and turned it into a candid conversation on the carpet where anything could happen."
And even though their trademark question, "Who are you wearing?" was mocked by the press as "improper grammar" and for being "stupid and shallow," it managed to revolutionize the red carpet arrivals into its own bona fide form of entertainment.
Following Rivers's death Thursday, E! released a statement: "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."
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By the early 2000s, Joan had added another business to her empire: The Joan Rivers Collection on QVC. Spanning everything from accessories to clothing to nail polish, the line proved to be a hit, and it seemed that Joan genuinely enjoyed appearing to hawk her wares herself. Her self-deprecating wit and loud laugh soon became signatures of her QVC appearances, and, it seemed, she had a knack for convincing people to buy.
Her success with both awards-show red carpets and her own fashion line led in a natural progression to her spot on the hit show Fashion Police, which she co-hosted alongside Giuliana Rancic, Kelly Osbourne, and George Kotsiopoulos starting in 2010.
E! announced an indefinite hiatus for Fashion Police following Rivers's death: "Right now, we are mourning our beloved Joan. We will respond at a later date with programming updates."
So even though she famously rankled more actors than we can even count anymore with her snarky comments about their red carpet missteps, she also managed to roll with the punches and stay relevant in the entertainment industry for nearly 50 years — and there's nothing more impressive than that.