Joan Rivers, the outspoken comedian who received a Tony nomination for her performance as Lenny Bruce's mother in Broadway's Sally Marr…and her escorts, has died after going into cardiac and respiratory arrest during a medical procedure on August 28. She was 81.
Born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in Brooklyn, New York, on June 8, 1933, Joan Rivers was the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants Beatrice and Meyer Molinsky. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Barnard College in 1954 with a degree in English. Before entering show business, Rivers worked as a tour guide at Rockefeller Center and as a fashion consultant at Bond Clothing Stores.
In 1959, Rivers appeared at The Garrett Theater in the drama Driftwood, playing the lesbian lover of then-unknown actress Barbra Streisand. She provided material for the 1965 off-Broadway review The Game Is Up. In between, Rivers started performing at comedy clubs around New York City and began making appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, and other variety shows.
Rivers made her Broadway debut in 1972 in a short-lived play she coauthored titled Fun City. She went on to play the role of Kate in Neil Simon's Broadway Bound in the drama's final months on Broadway in 1988. She received a Tony nomination for her performance in her 1994 comedy Sally Marr…and her escorts, which was rumored as a possible revival on Broadway during the 2014-15 season. She played frequent stand-up engagements off-Broadway at The Laurie Beechman Theatre.
In her later years, Rivers became known for her outspoken style of comedy and her coverage of various red-carpet events before major Hollywood award shows. She appeared with her daughter, Melissa Rivers, on the 2009 edition of Celebrity Apprentice. Her life was the subject of the 2010 documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.
Rivers is survived by her daughter Melissa and grandson Edgar Cooper Endicott.