No matter what generation you grew up in, you knew Joan Rivers — she was simply always around. It’s somewhat astonishing when you actually sit down and list all of the things that Rivers, who died Thursday at age 81, did in the last several years.
“Her style was to keep moving forward. Into her 80s, she was a frightening workaholic,” Slate noted. “She would rather do any gig — Las Vegas, a cruise — than no gig.”
That proved very true in the last decade. Her most visible job was on the red carpet, where she became famous for critiquing celebrity fashion in such a brutally honest way that no one else could measure up. She segued from that job into hosting E!’s hit series “Fashion Police,” a ratings hit for the cable network, and continued to heave insults at all the A-listers.
The show — which starred Rivers along with co-hosts Kelly Osbourne, Giuliana Rancic and George Kotsiopoulos — started as one-off specials after award shows. It was so successful that in late 2010, the network expanded the specials into weekly series, and eventually expanded from 30 minutes to an hour.
“It’s not mean,” Rivers recently told CNN about her candid criticism of celebrity fashion. “I tell the truth. I’m sure I say the same things that all your viewers say to their friends sitting next to them on the couch. We’re one of the few shows that says, ‘That’s an ugly dress,’ and that’s okay.”
“These ladies make $28 million a picture,” she continued. “You really think Nicki Minaj cares I didn’t like her dress? When you’re in that kind of a bracket, you don’t really care…it’s not about them, it’s clothing.”
Last week (just two days before she went into cardiac arrest) Rivers appeared on a 90-minute “Fashion Police” episode to dissect all the fashion of the VMA Awards and the Emmy Awards. Within the first five minutes, she made her co-host’s jaws drop multiple times with her shots at celebrities.
She despised Claire Danes’s red Givenchy gown, and one point said the “Homeland” actress “looks like an overdue baby that is crowning on the red carpet.” Rivers liked January Jones’s look at bit more, but still wasn’t quite sure about the billowing lower half of the dress: “There was more room under that skirt than Steven Segal’s work schedule.”
Beyond her fashion coverage, Rivers let the cameras take a personal look at her life with a WE tv reality show, “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?” The show kicked off in January 2011 and followed Rivers as she moved from New York to Los Angeles to live with her daughter, Melissa, and grandson, Cooper. That led to all the predictable wacky situations you can imagine, including trips to the plastic surgeon. It lasted four seasons before wrapping in May of this year.
Rivers also couldn’t move away from her talk show host persona — she started her own Web series, “In Bed With Joan,” where she literally invited a celebrity into her bed for a 15- to 20-minute interview. The guests ranged far and wide, from Sarah Silverman to Marc Maron to Kathy Griffin. In her last episode a couple of weeks ago, she talked to controversial couple LeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian, grilling them about their personal lives while they tossed back some drinks.
She competed on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2009 alongside Andrew Dice Clay and Khloe Kardashian. Comedy Central held a roast in her honor. Rivers even hosted an obscure TV Land show for a couple of seasons called “How’d You Get So Rich?” where she interviewed people who unexpectedly became millionaires. She was always game for a cameo, from “Celebrity Family Feud” to an appearance on FX’s “Nip/Tuck.”
This was all, of course, in addition to stand-up shows and tours and books — she wrote two in recent years and was still making the rounds promoting “Diary of a Mad Diva.” She made headlines earlier this summer during one of those interviews when she stormed out of a CNN on-air appearance, as the anchor started asking her about whether she crossed the line with jokes about Casey Anthony and Princess Diana.
She was scheduled to take her stand-up show to Europe in the fall. Many have noted the tragedy in the tour’s title: “Quick…Before They Close the Lid (Seriously…this one could be IT!)” At the time it was created, the tour’s title likely seemed harmless — because it never seemed as if it would be true.