Joan Rivers, dead at 81

Many in the global LGBT community are mourning the death of much-loved American comedienne Joan Rivers, a vocal supporter of equality.

The 81-year old star passed away in New York on Thursday following complications during a surgical procedure on her vocal cords.

Rivers had a 55-year career in show business that included stand-up comedy, acting, writing, producing and television hosting. In recent years she became known for her no-holds-barred red carpet interviews, her celebrity fashion show Fashion Police and reality series, with daughter Melissa, Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?

She was also famous for her multiple cosmetic surgeries, which she was open about; a series of procedures that left her looking remarkably young.

A pioneer for women in the comedy world, Rivers was both loved and reviled for her acerbic and bitchy “take no prisoners” style of humour. She was often lambasted for being insensitive, inappropriate, crass and politically incorrect.

It was her cutting “tell it like it is” wit and forceful personally that made her a favourite with gay audiences, something which she eagerly reciprocated, telling HuffPost Live last year that, “I’m queen of the gays.”

In May, the Brooklyn-born New Yorker said in an interview with the Advocate that her gay fans had been “wonderful from day one.”

She explained: “I remember when I was working at the Duplex in Greenwich Village in New York at the beginning of my career and the only ones who would laugh at my jokes were the gay guys. I think if I had started out in straight clubs and bars I never would’ve gotten anywhere.

“Even today, when I’m on tour I always know if I get eight gay men in the front row it’s going to be a great show. Maybe it’s just me and I know they’re going to laugh at what I’d laugh at, but when my gays are in the audience it’s always a good time.”

Speaking to revellers at Las Vegas Pride in 2012, Rivers proclaimed: “Life is very tough. If you don’t laugh, it’s even tougher. I’m in nobody’s circle. I’ve always been an outsider.”

Joan Rivers in 1967

Joan Rivers in 1967

Rivers supported and raised funds for AIDS charities in the early days of the HIV epidemic which swept through American’s gay population in the 1980s. It was a time when few celebrities were prepared to stand with the LGBT community.

When she won Celebrity Apprentice in 2009, Rivers donated the $500,000 winnings to her favourite charity, for which she served as a board member: God’s Love We Deliver. The organisation provides and delivers meals to people living with AIDs.

She also vocally backed same-sex marriage rights and, as an ordained minister, she even went on to officiate two same-sex marriage ceremonies.

In 2012, she told columnist Liz Smith, tongue in cheek: “I HATE gay weddings. I’m thrilled about the equal rights thing … but gay weddings are like the War on Terror — they go on forever…. Gay weddings are a lifetime commitment — for the guests. They start at seven and end in October. Why? Because stereotypes be damned, gays love parades.”

Production of episodes of Fashion Police has been suspended. It is unclear if the show will go on with a new host. “Right now we are mourning our beloved Joan. We will respond at a later date with programming updates,” said E! Entertainment.

In statement about her mother’s passing, Melissa Rivers said: “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.”

Long live the queen! Rest in peace Joan Rivers.

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