This woman had come back from devastating loss; she’d spent two years in a professional dry spell after the suicide of her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, and the failure of the Fox late night show that many predicted would be a career-ender. Yet well after “retirement age”— and decades after many women in show business are forced out to pasture — she’d somehow made her way through several successful incarnations, managing to work two or three series simultaneously while keeping up a string of nightclub gigs and hawking her jewelry line on QVC.
In 2010, feeling stung by some setbacks of my own, I was in the frame of mind to ask Rivers her about what she did to be such a survivor. And she was quick to respond. “I’ve been fired a lot. I’ve had full books and I’ve had years where I’ve had empty books, and when one day you find you’re slightly older and you have an empty book, that’s really, really scary,” she admitted. “You just have to keep on moving and keep on trying and keep on pushing.”
Many who experienced Rivers’ public speaking engagements walked away having literally laughed and cried, feeling bolstered to keep moving and trying and pushing as well.
Not surprisingly with her work ethic, she was an admirer of the great American dream, something readily apparent on her “How’d You Get So Rich?” show. “All these people started out with nothing. They put in hard, hard, hard work. It shows if you’ve got a good idea and are willing to work your butt off, you can get rich,” she said admiringly.
Rivers left a great legacy of laughter, of course, and also of inspiration through her books and interviews and the unfiltered, acclaimed “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” documentary of 2010.
“I didn’t want to do a documentary and have it be one of those things you see on Biography channel where everybody says nice things. Let’s show the truth, otherwise why bother?” she said.
“There was only one thing I asked to have removed from it. I was talking about Edgar’s suicide and how angry I still am at him. You know, I’ll walk by his picture and still say $@!! you. And Melissa got very upset with that,” she said of her daughter. “She asked if you could please ask them to take that out. Everything else — the deal was that they would follow me around and I would give them free access. And that’s exactly what I wanted.
“I just love the business, it’s the only business I love,” she went on. “And if you have to work hard to do it, fine. It’s a wonderful tradeoff.”
As we mark Rivers’ passing, we can’t help but note with a smile that worked right up to the end, moving, trying and pushing — and never did let setbacks stop her.