There was nobody like her. Some people are knockoffs or imitations of other, stronger, more vivid figures, but there was never another Joan Rivers before her or while she lived. She was a seriously wonderful, self-invented woman.
She was completely open and immediately accessible. She had the
warmth of a person who found others keenly and genuinely interesting.
It was also the warmth of a person with no boundaries: She wanted to
know everything about you and would tell you a great deal about herself,
right away. She had no edit function, which in part allowed her gift.
She would tell you what she thought. She loved to shock, not only an
audience but a friend. I think from the beginning life startled her,
and she enjoyed startling you. You only asked her advice or opinion if
you wanted an honest reply.
Her intelligence was penetrating and original, her tastes refined.
Her duplex apartment on the east side of Manhattan was full of books in
beautiful bindings, of elegant gold things on the table, lacquered
boxes, antique furniture. She liked everything just so. She read a
lot. She was a doctor’s daughter.
We met and became friends in 1992, but the story I always remember
when I think of her took place in June 2004. Ronald Reagan had just
died, and his remains were being flown from California to Washington,
where he would lay in state at the U.S. Capitol. A group of his friends
were invited to the Capitol to take part in the formal receiving of his
remains, and to say goodbye. Joan was there, as a great friend and
supporter of the Reagans.
I last saw her in July. A friend and I met her for lunch at a
restaurant she’d chosen in Los Angeles. It was full of tourists.
Everyone at the tables recognized her and called out. She felt she owed
her fans everything and never ignored or patronized an admirer. She
smiled through every picture with every stranger. She was nice—she
asked about their families, where they were from, how they liked it
They absolutely knew she would treat them well and she absolutely
The only people who didn’t recognize Joan were the people who ran
the restaurant, who said they didn’t have her reservation and asked us
to wait in the bar, where waiters bumped into us as they bustled by.
Joan didn’t like that, gave them 10 minutes to get their act together,
and when they didn’t she left. But she didn’t just leave. She stood
outside on the sidewalk, and as cars full of people went by with people
calling out, “Joan! We love you!” she would yell back, “Thank you but
don’t go to this restaurant, they’re rude! Boycott this restaurant!”
My friend said, “Joan, stop it, you’re going to wind up on TMZ.”
“I don’t care,” she said. She felt she was doing a public service.
We went to a restaurant down the street, where when she walked in they almost bowed.
She wouldn’t let a friend pay a bill, ever. She tipped like a woman
who used to live on tips. She was hilarious that day on the subject
of Barack and Michelle Obama, whom she did not like. (I almost didn’t
write that but decided if Joan were here she’d say, “Say I didn’t like
She was a Republican, always a surprising thing in show business, and
in a New Yorker, but she was one because, as she would tell you, she
worked hard, made her money with great effort, and didn’t feel her
profits should be unduly taxed. She once said in an interview that if
you have 19 children she will pay for the first four but no more.
Mostly she just couldn’t tolerate cant and didn’t respond well to
political manipulation. She believed in a strong defense because she
was a grown-up and understood the world to be a tough house. She loved
Margaret Thatcher, who said what Joan believed: The facts of life are
conservative. She didn’t do a lot of politics in her shows—politics
divides an audience—but she thought a lot about it and talked about it.
She was socially liberal in the sense she wanted everyone to find as
many available paths to happiness as possible. (Full story)