In late August 2011, my mother went into the hospital for tests and possibly a simple procedure. She never came back to us. Things went badly, her kidneys began to fail, toxins traveled to all her internal organs and she ended up on life support. On October 1st that year, my brother called to tell me our mother had left us. I was devastated. I knew she'd go some day but not like that. And not at 81.
And so, Joan Rivers' passing at age 81 stirs up anew all the feelings from three years ago regarding my mom because of similar circumstances. But I also mourn a comedy icon who I grew up with, watching her on tv since the mid-60s. I enjoyed her evolution through the years as age only made her more outrageous and audacious, especially regarding her no-holds-barred lampooning of celebrities. Nothing was sacred, ultimately, and she was as harsh on her own image and celebrity as she was on others.
In 2005, I went with my friend, Kevin, to see Joan live at a small, intimate, underground East Village club, Fez. "Here's where I'm at in my career right now," said Joan for her opening. "An old Jew having to work in a club named FEZ!" Her routine was brilliant and absolutely fearless. There were no sacred cows.
"I've been working for God's Love We Deliver for many years. Once I week, I deliver food to people with AIDS who need the assistance. Used to be if you had AIDS, you didn't live all that long. But with today's drugs, people go on forever. I've been schlepping food to this one guy's apartment on a 5th floor walk-up for over a decade! It's like, Die already!" Yes, she went there and the packed club full of gay fans went wild. As I recall, 9/11 humor was also on the night's menu.
But there was a backlash to Joan's black comedy by people who, in my opinion, want to hold comics accountable for being politically correct. That wasn't Joan. Her credo was much like Bette Midler's: "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke." And, as I often say, "What good is comedy if it doesn't offend everyone?"
Joan's connection with the LGBT community was strong. She was an AIDS activist, she loved and catered to her adoring gay fans, and her campy sense of glamor appealed to them. Her frequent facelifts were a joke that even she appreciated, but she had a sense of undeniable divahood and didn't care when people criticized her for going under the knife because she was NOT growing old gracefully by any means.
I read her books (I Hate Everyone (Starting with Myself) was my fave but her last, Diary of a Mad Diva was also very good http://djbuddybeaverhausen.blogspot.com/2014/07/joan-rivers-diva-diary.html). I highly recommend the warts-and-all movie documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.
I must say, my co-worker, Trisa, took news of Rivers' death hard. Trisa has bought several fabulous fashions (clothing and costume jewelry that are quite attractive) from the Joan Rivers collection and watched her faithfully on Fashion Police.
Irrepressible, Joan burst out gleefully: "Well, we don't know yet! They haven't looked through all your closets!"
The Queen of Mean was not amused.
RIP, Joan Rivers, who combined the comic joy of Robin Williams with the old-school glamor of Lauren Bacall. I thought you'd go on forever like the Energizer Bunny of comedy. You are missed but never forgotten.