LOS ANGELES -- He was winding up four days of routine financial meetings in Philadelphia and had told his administrative assistant to confirm his return flight to Los Angeles. He had just finished reading Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind" and was looking for another good book. He was trying to figure out when he could reschedule dinner with actor Vincent Price. And, as he always did whenever he went out of town, Edgar Rosenberg kept in close telephone contact with his wife.
"I spoke to him the day before," comedian Joan Rivers said Tuesday night, her voice filled with disbelief and anguish. "He said he had finished his business and was coming home.
"He was, indeed. On final business."
Breaking her public silence on her husband's death, Rivers haltingly tried to explain what she herself doesn't yet fully understand. "He had gotten very depressed. And since the heart attack, he never really came out of it ... His health just disintegrated and with it his mental health ... I don't mean to say that he was crazy ... It's just that he was very upset."
No one had any warning when the 62-year-old producer swallowed a fatal overdose of Valium in the downtown Philadelphia Four Seasons Hotel. Hotel security officers found his body sprawled on the floor of his suite Friday morning after they were alerted by his business partner, Thomas Pileggi, who became worried when Rosenberg didn't answer the telephone. At 11:45 a.m. on the day he was to return to Los Angeles, Rosenberg was pronounced dead.
So there would be no suspicion of foul play, no chance of dying without saying goodbye, Rosenberg had recorded three cassette tapes -- one for his wife, one for their 19-year-old daughter Melissa and one for Pileggi.
Pileggi said the Philadelphia police played the tape earmarked for him just long enough to hear Rosenberg admit he had taken his own life. Pileggi wept when he heard Rosenberg instruct him to personally deliver the other two tapes to Rivers and Melissa. On the recording, Rosenberg explained that his failing health made him feel he was a "burden to the people he loved" and that he "couldn't go on," Pileggi said.
Rivers was sitting in her home in the well-to-do Bel Air section of Los Angeles this week as hundreds of VIPs and celebrities came by or called, following an emotional memorial service Sunday. She was subdued, almost submerged by her grief for the man who for 22 years was her best friend, her business confidant, her source of strength.
She recited a list of illnesses Rosenberg had endured, including some never publicly revealed. "Gout, a hiatal hernia, a bleeding ulcer, a growth taken off his mouth, a quadruple bypass, heart attacks. It can get you very depressed ... It's a bummer."
In public, Edgar Rosenberg was known as a diligent but difficult businessman. In private, he was an intellectual who loved good conversation over caviar and crackers.
Rivers' fans knew him only as the impossibly put-upon husband in her jokes about her sagging breasts, falling buttocks and raging cellulite. "There was never a joke that was a put-down of Edgar," her secretary, Dorothy Melvin, noted. "All the put-downs were about herself."
Only after Rivers began hosting "The Late Show" on the Fox Broadcasting Co. network in October 1986 did the public finally get regular glimpses of him. The bearded and bespectacled man with the barrel chest and the self-conscious grin was the program's executive producer. Yet he squirmed shyly on camera one night as Nell Carter serenaded him.
To much of the Hollywood community, Rosenberg was yet another husband who managed his wife's career. Few in the industry knew about his years in TV and film production and public relations.
"There was a whole Edgar whom very few people knew, which is a tragedy because he was such an extraordinary talent," explained Peter Bart, a prominent Los Angeles producer-screen writer who was a member of Rosenberg's inner circle of friends for more than two decades. "He shouldn't have let that happen. But his wife's career took off so fast, he ended up fostering it rather than fostering himself."
Rosenberg -- English-born, educated at the prestigious public school Rugby; a graduate of Cambridge -- had his first success in the early days of television as the producer of "Omnibus," an hourly 1950s series devoted to people, ideas and the arts.
He eventually started a movie production company under the aegis of the United Nations. His movie-making led Rosenberg to a friendship with actor Peter Sellers and a joint movie deal. Faced with a screenplay that needed rewriting, Rosenberg hired Rivers. They flew to Jamaica to work on it.
After a whirlwind courtship of four days, Joan Rivers and Edgar Rosenberg were married July 15, 1965.
Rosenberg's own brand of humor was very British. It took Rivers' anything-goes, the-emperor-has-no-clothes kind of comedy to soften his starched European formality.
Rivers was attracted to him because not only was he the smartest man she'd ever met, he was also the classiest. "He was a Cambridge man -- and he talked like one," Bart said. Vincent Price, noting Rosenberg's collection of Russian Imperial Court objects, said that had he started earlier in his life, "he could have had the world's largest collection of Faberge' eggs."
Books were Rosenberg's passion. Intimates say both he and Rivers, also an avid reader, would routinely finish as many as six or eight a week. "Edgar was one of those few people you know who really does read every good book that comes out," Bart said.
As a couple, Rosenberg and Rivers were "joined at the hip," in Price's words, personally and professionally. By all accounts, their working relationship was a total partnership. She wouldn't make a move without him.
When the "Late Show" failed, he was willing to take the knocks. But the pressure took its toll. "In point of fact," Bart said, "the Edgar of 20 years ago was a very upbeat and witty and influential person. And the Edgar of recent years, because of the battering of this business, I think, became a much more somber and acerbic person."
When he learned of Rosenberg's suicide, Bart noted, "I said to myself, the Edgar that I knew 20 years ago would have thought up a better third act."