by Melanie Bromley | Thu., Sep. 1, 2016 9:00 AM
At E!, we were lucky enough to work in the same building as Joan; Fashion Police and E! News even share the same space (some of her ashes were recently scattered on our set). Even now, it isn't unusual for the crew to tell stories about her kindness and generosity. She might not be with us anymore, but her presence remains; her portrait still takes pride of place in our backstage area.
I didn't know her well but our paths did cross. On occasion, I'd see her walking through our newsroom with her suitcase (filled with make up) trailing behind her, and no assistant in sight. Sometimes she'd stop to give me a hug, her face immediately lighting up every time I asked about her precious dogs. In person, she was sparkling to be around. And while for many she was better known for her scathing cultural commentary and outrageous one-liners, underneath she could be deeply maternal, possessing a heart of gold.
While the anniversary of her death will likely be marked privately by her daughter, Melissa Rivers, and beloved grandson, Cooper, it gives fans a chance to peek beneath her sequin-clad veneer and remember a courageous woman who taught us valuable lessons about life and love.
Brian Bowen Smith/E!
1. You Can Overcome Anything.
Like most great comics, Joan's humor was underpinned by tragedy. Her highs often matched by low points. She was living proof you can bounce back no matter what life throws at you.
In 1987, Joan's husband, Edgar Rosenberg, committed suicide. She later admitted his death was so devastating it made her contemplate even taking her own life. Not only had she lost her partner and the father of her daughter, but also her manager and best friend. Joan and Edgar's romance was whirlwind, to say the least. They married just four days after meeting, but soon were inseparable.
A year before Joan died, I sat down to interview her to mark her 80th birthday. She was in a contemplative mood, as often happens when we enter a new decade, and our conversation naturally steered to how she managed to heal after losing the love of her life.
"There is nothing you can do about the past so just get on with it," she said. "It's very English— my husband was English. Move on, move ahead. As Winston Churchill once said, 'When you're walking through hell, walk faster.'"
Her words are testament to her resolve. It's the same determination that once made her the most famous female comic in the world. But she was also keen to pass on some advice so she could help any of her fans that were also going through difficulties. "I really mean this, no matter how horrible it is, write it all down if it's a terrible day. Write down everything that's upsetting you. Put it in a book and find it a year later and you'll go, 'That was so stupid.' All the clichés work. Time heals everything."
The darkness in Joan's life is what propelled her to want to make people laugh. In some ways, Joan was Beyoncé, before Beyoncé; she turned lemons into lemonade. As she remarked in her 2010 documentary, A Piece of Work, "Comedy is to make everybody laugh at everything and deal with it."
2. Choose a Career You Are Passionate About.
Joan was an outspoken feminist who paved the way for women the world over. She was the first woman to have a late-night talk show on a major network, and would often litter her monologues with gags about sex (in a time when that was taboo). And she wasn't afraid to be brutally honest about her Hollywood peers. Sure, it didn't always make her new friends, but it definitely made us laugh.
Her career was a roller coaster of a ride. At times she was fired and forced to reinvent herself but no matter how hard she fell, she always managed to get back up again.
Her secret? Her passion. "I don't want to do anything else," she told me about being a comedienne and actress. "When I am not writing then I am performing. When I am not performing, I love to be in the editing room. I love every part of the business. My life is fabulous. Everybody is fabulous. I am thrilled to have been making a living at it for 46 years."
I asked her if she had ever thought about retiring.
"And do what? People retire who really don't love what they do and want to do something else. I've had a couple of big highs. On—of course the first time I was on the Carson show and he said on the air, 'You're going to be a star'. Getting my Emmy after I had been fired from Fox very publicly, and then I came back with a new show and got the Emmy for that!"
Joan worked right up until the end of her life, not because she had to, but because she wanted to make people happy.
3. Surround Yourself With Friends Who Make You Laugh.
Joan was a staple on the New York social scene, often hosting at her extravagant Upper Eastside Penthouse apartment. She thrived when surrounded by her nearest and dearest. Her circle included Robin Williams, Chris Rock and even Donald Trump.
"I was one of four Americans invited to his wedding [to Camilla Parker-Bowles]. I just love him! I love the Duchess of Cornwall. They are funny. I have known them now for 20 years. He's got a great, wonderful, funny, silly sense of humor and she gets everything. I always start by saying, 'With all due respect sir,' and he starts to laugh and then I will say, 'That whore is a f--king slut!' Whenever I say 'With all due respect sir...' he starts to laugh. I have pictures with him absolutely cracking up. They make me so happy."
Charles William Bush
4. Being Single Has Its Benefits.
Joan dated after Edgar's death, even enjoying an eight-year relationship with a banker, but in her final years she remained happily single.
"The last man I was with died three years ago," she told me in 2013. "[Being single] is wonderful because you can gain weight and let your stomach go!"
5. Stay Active.
It's probably an understatement to say that Joan was vivacious because at times she seemed to possess more energy than a twenty-something.
Even in her final decade, she was always on the go. Often jetting from coast to coast for public appearances, book tours, stage shows, and of course, Fashion Police. She was happiest when her schedule was jam-packed.
"I walk everywhere. I take stairs rather than an escalator," she said. "I do every little thing I can to keep myself in motion. I have a trainer three times a week. We are meant to walk and move. In L.A. it makes me laugh that people get in their car, drive somewhere to walk. Where as in NYC, they walk a lot more."
But she wasn't always as strict, especially when it came to her diet. "I never eat more than six donuts at one time! My dogs look just like me–we all waddle down the street..."
NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
6. When It Comes to Your Looks, Do Whatever It Takes to Feel Your Best.
Looking good was important to Joan. She was famous for her opulent outfits, extravagant jewelry and perfectly applied face, and wasn't ashamed to admit that putting on her makeup was the first thing she did when she rolled out of bed.
She was equally as well known for her love of plastic surgery. As she explained in her documentary, she first became an advocate for plastic surgery, then the poster child for it, and then the butt of jokes around it.
"I believe anything that can help you do it," she told me in our last interview. "If Botox can make you look better, do it! If you think you don't have a nice nose, fix it! Feel good about yourself. Better a new face coming out of an old car than an old face coming out of a new car."
7. Love Deeply.
Melissa and Cooper meant everything to Joan. Of Melissa, she said, "I adore her. I think she's terrific. We are very close."
As did her other children: her dogs! "I fly through the night so I can be there for them in the morning. My dogs must sleep with me or I'll get hurt. The best part about dogs at this age is you can blame your farts on them. So if it's a noisy fart you can go 'Oh Max! Naughty boy.'"
8. Live in the Moment.
Joan's legacy is so much more than the feisty personality she was famous for. She was an avid philanthropist, dedicated to helping those in need. Whether it was women's rights, gay rights or the homeless, she was always willing to fight tirelessly for causes she believed in.
A year before she passed, I asked Joan how she would like to be remembered. In her answer lies what might be the best piece of advice she could possibly leave us with. "When it's over, it's over," she said gently. "So enjoy it now."
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