Joan Rivers performed for over 50 years, and was never one to shy away from controversy. Some of her best material came from saying exactly what was on her mind, regardless of the storm that might follow. Here are some memorable moments from the gravelly-voiced comedienne’s career.
Rivers would later go on to host her own latenight comedy show, but was performing standup on latenight shows long before, as evident here in her 1967 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” where she took on stereotypes about relations between the sexes.
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She guest-hosted for Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” occasionally in the ’70s and early ’80s before becoming the show’s permanent guest in 1983. Here she is performing a monologue for the show in 1984 where she jokes about her start in comedy performing in low-rent nightspots like “Club Herpes.”
A popular guest on “The Tonight Show,” Rivers acknowledged Carson as her mentor. In this 1986 appearance she wore the same outfit as in her first appearance in 1965. The same year, she left the show to host her own show, “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” on the then-newly formed Fox Network, after which she said Carson never spoke to her again.
Rivers’ show, broken into two segments above, debuted on Oct. 9, 1986, and she hosted the show until being fired in May 1987. The guests on the first show included the deliciously-’80s lineup of David Lee Roth, Pee Wee Herman, Elton John and Cher.
Carson banned her from appearing on “The Tonight Show,” a ban that lasted until Jimmy Fallon took over as host on Feb. 17, 2014.
In March 2013, as a guest on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” Rivers commented on singer Adele’s weight after meeting her at the Academy Awards, saying, “She was very scared because she was singing at the awards. She kept saying, ‘My throat, my throat – I don’t know if I can swallow.’ And I said, ‘Oh, yeah! You can swallow.'”
She defended the joke to the Huffington Post, saying, “It’s not mean. She’s a chubby lady who’s very, very rich, and she should just calm down — or lose weight! She wanted an apology, so I took an ad out on her ass. I said, ‘You are not fat.’ And then I had room for a lot of other ads,” Rivers quipped. “Adele is beautiful and successful and has what, $100 million? Let’s face reality: she’s fat!”
After a brief moment in a bit as a member of the chorus of celebrities who lost a $100 to Jimmy Fallon for betting that he’d never host “The Tonight Show,” Rivers returned to the show earlier this year for an interview for the first time in more than 25 years, and 49 years after her first appearance on the show.
She celebrated by flipping Jay Leno the bird.
She caused a stir again in April, when she made a joke comparing her daughter’s accommodations in her guestroom to the kidnapping victims in Cleveland, saying, “those women in the basement in Cleveland had more space.” She defended the joke, saying, “I’m a comedienne. I know what those girls went through. It was a little, stupid joke. There is nothing to apologize for. I made a joke. That’s what I do. Calm down. Calm f–king down. They’re free, so let’s move on.’