But there was also a softer side to the host of E!'s Fashion Police and veteran comedienne, the first "permanent" guest host of The Tonight Show. She was a friend, a philanthropist, a loving mother and grandmother and an inspiration to many.
Here are five reasons why Joan touched our hearts, with her kindness, empathy and generosity.
1. She Was Devoted to Her Daughter, Her "Best Friend": Joan's daughter, Melissa Rivers, is the comedienne's only child and the mother of her only grandson, Cooper. The mother-daughter duo have worked on various TV shows together, including E!'s Fashion Police and the WEtv reality show Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?.
"I gave birth to my best friend," Rivers told E! in 1989.
2. She Was a Doting Grandmother: Joan's grandson, now 13, has often appeared on Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best? and the comedienne has often expressed her love for and pride in the boy publicly.
"He gets anything that Grandma can think of. I know he's spoiled rotten; I couldn't care less," Joan said in a 2012 interview with Grandparents.com, the website of the American Grandparents Association. "I just want him to be happy. My life has whizzed past, and I think part of it is because I have adored and still adore, more than ever, what I do. And I just want him to find that key to what he loves to do.
Joan also joked in her 2009 book, Men Are Stupid...and They Like Big Boobs: A Woman's Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery, that after each of her "beauty enhancements," Cooper refers to her as "Nana New Face." She told Grandparents.com he also calls her Grammy.
3. She Was Devoted to Charity: Joan did volunteer work for the God's Love We Deliver organization for more than 25 years and had served on its board of directors since 1994. She sometimes brought Melissa and Cooper with her. "Every Thanksgiving, Cooper delivers with me, God bless him," Joan said in the Grandparents.com interview. "He is a child of Beverly Hills, and then he comes to New York and there's Grandma in her nice apartment and Grandma's house in Connecticut, and his other Grandma has another house that's wonderful in San Diego. I think it's very nice to see that not everybody has this. We help other people."
Following her death, the organization released a touching statement and also announced it is naming a bakery after her. "Joan brought love, compassion and humor to every delivery she made and every event she supported," God's Love We Deliver said in a statement on its website. "Joan's impact on God's Love will be felt always by our clients, volunteers, staff and community. Rest in peace, Joan. You will forever be in our hearts."
In 2009, she won NBC's The Celebrity Apprentice, in which celebs compete to raise funds for charity. Joan won more than $500,000 for God's Love We Deliver. The group said the money would "provide over 56,000 meals and unlimited nutrition counseling" for its clients.
4. She Brought Comfort to a Dying Friend: In a 2008 interview on the British show Shrink Rap, Joan broke down crying as she told interviewer Pamela Stevenson about her past psychologist, Michael, who she had seen during a difficult time in her life. He was diagnosed with AIDS at age 34 and had just months to live. She said she adored him. "I was in the room when he died," she said. "That's how close we'd become."
5. She Didn't Take Her Success for Granted: "I am very, very lucky," she said in an interview with Knight-Ridder Newspapers in 1984. "I never forget there are a lot of funny ladies out there and God said, 'Let's let Rivers give it a shot.' I'm the luckiest woman walking around and that makes me very happy. Every time I walk out on stage, I say, 'Thank you, God.' I must have been a very good person in a previous life."