According to a statement released by her daughter, Melissa Rivers, comedian Joan Rivers has died at the age of 81. Rivers had been under intensive care for much of the last week, after she stopped breathing during outpatient surgery on her vocal cords and suffered cardiac arrest. She remained at New York’s Mt. Sinai in a medically induced coma until her death this afternoon.
For decades, Rivers had been one of the most prolific—and dogged—comedians around. She got her start as a stand-up in the 1960s, establishing a persona that was both bawdy and brassy but also steeped in self-deprecation. For most of her career, Joan Rivers made Joan Rivers the butt of her best jokes, taking aim at her looks (both God-given and otherwise). But she also wielded her sharp tongue against others as the host of various red carpet shows and eventually Fashion Police for E!, where she critiqued celebrities’ looks with the same unapologetic cattiness she trained on herself.
In a career that spanned five decades, included mainstay appearances on game shows and talk shows (including own short-lived The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers), countless comedy specials, albums, and books, Rivers simply never stopped producing. As the 2010 documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work revealed, she kept meticulously organized file cabinets stored with the thousands of gags she’d written since the very beginning, and she just kept stuffing it with more. She was a dedicated performer who often declared she didn’t want to live if she couldn’t do comedy—and fittingly, Rivers did a stand-up gig the night before she went in for her surgery. She dedicated her life to getting a laugh, right up until the very end.
Sonia Saraiya has a longer look at Rivers’ life and career here.