On Sunday morning, September 7, picture perfect weather prevailed in New York City for the funeral service of iconic comedienne, Joan Rivers who died at age 81 on Thursday afternoon, September 4. After spending a week in a medically induced coma and on life support at Mount Sinai Hospital, Rivers “passed peacefully” according to daughter Melissa, 46.
During a routine endoscopic procedure on her vocal chords on August 28th at the Yorkville Endoscopy Clinic on East 93rd Street and 3rd Avenue, Rivers went into respiratory and cardiac arrest. While doctors were successful in resuscitating her heart, she never regained consciousness and remained in the hospital’s intensive care unit until a day before her passing. The New York State Health Department is investigating the circumstances, and the New York City medical examiner said tests to determine the cause of death were inconclusive.
On Saturday, her remains were transferred from the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home in New York to a New Jersey crematorium as were her wishes.
The sun shone bright and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, as both mourners and onlookers gathered at the legendary Temple Emmanuel on 5th Avenue in midtown Manhattan to pay their final respects and say their heartfelt goodbyes to a woman who had entertained audiences of all ages for over 50 years. Rivers was a trailblazer for all comics, but especially for women. The raspy-voiced bleached blonde with the brash New York accent was a TV talk show host, actress, fashion critic, as well as selling a line of jewelry for the QVC shopping network. Most recently, she starred on the E! Network’s “Fashion Police” program and a reality program called “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best.”
Back at the end of July of this year, Rivers delivered an impromptu, passionate defense of Israel during the midst of the 50-day war known as “Operation Protective Edge” when approached by a TMZ reporter. She displayed her adamant support for the country and her disapproval of the media coverage of the conflict.
“Let me just tell you, if New Jersey were firing rockets into New York, we would wipe them out,” Rivers said. “If we heard they were digging tunnels from New Jersey to New York, we would get rid of Jersey.”
She continued, “I don’t want to hear any more ‘Oh, we’ll do a partial truce.’ Palestinians – you cannot throw rockets and expect people not to defend themselves!” She added that CNN and the BBC “ought to be ashamed of themselves” for their tendentious coverage of the war in Gaza.
Rivers’ funeral specifically reflected her personal wishes as was outlined in her 2012 book “I Hate Everyone … Starting With Me”. She wrote that she hoped for “a huge showbiz affair with lights, cameras, action” and “Hollywood all the way.” Instead of a rabbi talking, Rivers asked for “Meryl Streep crying, in five different accents” and “a wind machine so that even in the casket my hair is blowing just like Beyonce’s.” In her book, Rivers joked that dying of natural causes was boring. “It’s the grand finale, act three, the eleven o’clock number — make it count. If you’re going to die, die interesting! Is there anything worse than a boring death? I think not.”
Fans of Rivers lined the streets of 5th Avenue for blocks as they stood behind police barricades to get a glimpse of a bevy of Hollywood stars and contemporaries of Rivers who attended.
Among the celebrities who participated in the upbeat funeral were shock jock Howard Stern, comedienne Kathy Griffin, actress Sarah Jessica Parker and husband Matthew Broderick, Whoopi Goldberg, Donald Trump, Judge Judy Sheindlen, FOX TV host Geraldo Rivera, Inside Edition host, Deborah Norville, Rosie O’Donnell, Michael Kors, Broadway star Audra McDonald, Hugh Jackman, Today Show co-host Hoda Kotb, ABC News icon Barbara Walters, the New York Post’s Cindy Adams, actress Bernadette Peters, impresario Clive Davis, Kathie Lee and others.
The New York Gay Men’s Chorus began the service with songs like “That’s Entertainment,” “Nothing Like A Dame,” “What A Wonderful World,” and “Big Spender,” and Hugh Jackman later sang “Quiet Please, There’s A Lady On Stage.”
Howard Stern spoke as well and he said that Joan was “the best friend in the world … a big sister … a crazy aunt at a bar mitzvah.” He also referenced the long-running feud that Rivers had with TV talk show host Johnny Carson and said that “Joan was now somewhere chasing Johnny Carson with a baseball bat.”
Also addressing the assemblage in the packed Temple was television personality Deborah Norville, friend Margie Stern and Joan's daughter Melissa Rivers. Audra McDonald sang one of Joan's favorite songs, "Smile.”
Norville spoke and offered a loving tribute to Joan and later commented on the excessive amount of white orchards in the temple. Daughter Melissa, who sat with her 13-year old son Cooper remained stoic; holding back emotions.
She read a letter in which she pretended to be Joan’s landlord. She joked and said her mom was late on her rent and was in trouble for tearing down a wall without getting approval.
Today Show co-host Hoda Kotb told reporters that the funeral “felt like a Broadway show with tons of humor, lots of tears and it ended with a standing ovation.”
Indeed, the funeral did conclude with a bang as Melissa Rivers had the New York Police Department’s bagpipe band play Broadway hits like “New York, New York,” and “Give My Regards to Broadway” during the final processional. They walked out of the temple and down 5th Avenue following the hearse.
The Jewish Voice was the only media outlet invited to join the memorial service inside the temple.
Her publicist said that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to God’s Love, We Deliver; Guide Dogs for the Blind; or Our House.