Joan Rivers died yesterday at the age of 81. In a statement issued by her daughter, Melissa Rivers, the comedianne "passed peacefully at 1:17 p.m. surrounded by family and close friends."
The comic worked through to the end, performing onstage in New York on August 27, a day before she suffered cardiac arrest during a routine outpatient procedure. The actress was placed on life support and never regained consciousness.
Rivers will be remembered for her raunchy stand-up routines and caustic red carpet critiques, and, indeed, the woman was both funny and insulting. I saw her perform many times and in person she was filthy, crude, and sharp as a tack. Many times, I found myself laughing so hard I couldn't breathe despite being completely offended at the same time.
Joan Rivers was also an unlikely friend of Martha Stewart's and a frequent guest on her show. When Martha decides to make a matzo shtetl, a Hanukkah riff on the Christmas gingerbread house, her creation just isn't as perfect as the domestic diva's. Joan chastises the audience saying, "you're laughing at me and I'm not even naked."
But, there was also a gentle, giving side to Rivers that she should also be known for. The comedianne and actress was a board member at God's Love we Deliver (GLWD), a New York-based organization that started in 1985, when hospice worker Ganga Stone delivered a meal to AIDS patient Richard Sayles.
The organization found a friend and supporter in Rivers who worked with them for over 25 years. Rivers served on the board of directors since 1994 and in 2009, won over $500,000 for God's Love on Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice. In an interview with Giuliana Rancic, Rivers explains that in the 1980's, many of her friends were dying from what was then called "gay pneumonia". She started delivering food to some of them through GLWD and a decades-long alliance was forged.
As a runner living in New York City, I participated in the annual God's Love We Deliver race, which took place around Thanksgiving. Joan Rivers was at the finish each year, kibbutzing over the loudspeaker and congratulating people as they crossed the line.
On the organization's website, Rivers is remembered not for mocking celebrity fashion sense (or lack thereof), but for volunteering "absolutely every Thanksgiving" by personally delivering meals with her daughter, Melissa, and grandson, Cooper, in tow. "Each year, she delivered holiday meals to our clients, surprising them with jokes and their special feasts, bringing warmth and care and brightening the holiday for so many."
God's Love We Deliver announced that, 'in honor and commemoration of our dear friend, we are naming the bakery in our expanded building in Soho The Joan Rivers Bakery."
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I'm sure Rivers is making some off-color joke about having to learn to bake in the afterlife right about now. And, somewhere, the heavens are laughing. Here's Joan talking about God's Love We Deliver: