Melissa Rivers Pays Tribute to Her Mother, Joan Rivers, for the First Time

At the Hollywood Reporter’s annual Women in Entertainment breakfast on Wednesday morning, Melissa Rivers gave a speech honoring her mother, the late, legendary comedian Joan Rivers. It was the first time she’d spoken in tribute to her mother, who she described foremost as "brave." “She never apologized for a joke and no topic was taboo and she was fine with that.” 

Melissa continued, “My mother was fearless and I don’t mean she didn’t have any fears. I mean that although she was only 5’2’’, she stood tall and walked through them. That is what made her such a brilliant performer.”

From when she was a child, Joan Rivers took risks. Melissa told a story about how Joan was sent home from Camp Kinnikinnick because she organized a bunk strike after the drama counselor apparently miscast Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. And when she was 8 years old, she sent a photograph of herself—frame and all—to MGM, aiming to jump start her Hollywood career.

Her mischievous nature never lessened. If Joan were still here and at the Hollywood Reporter breakfast, Melissa said “She'd not only be grateful and proud, she'd be beyond herself. She'd be sitting at the table, beaming. While very discreetly shoving croissants and silverware into her purse."

Joan’s longtime friend and fellow comedian Sarah Silverman also took the stage at the lunch to pay tribute before introducing Melissa. "Joan Rivers was not done," she said.”At 81, she lived a life that could jam-pack ten lifetimes. She wasn't the average person. She wasn't done. She left us unfinished."

Hear Joan's story in her own words below, then click through the gallery above for a look at her fearless career.

Gallery

"I'm Jewish, and I'm from Brooklyn, and my real name is Molinsky. I remember a dentist saying to me, 'A Jewish girl from Brooklyn named Molinsky, you're not going to make it.' And I thought, 'Oh! Yes I will Dr. Fidelman, yes I will,'" Joan told MAKERS.

She never studied comedy, but graduated from Barnard with a degree in English. Joan Rivers told MAKERS she went into comedy so she wouldn't have to be an office temporary. But of course her sharp wit and outgoing personality fit naturally into the scene.

Throughout the 1960s, Joan performed at The Bitter End, an iconic club in New York's Greenwich Village. She was there with Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, and Bill Cosby. She said, "I never felt competitive with them, because they understood they were going to get through way before I got through."

Rivers also auditioned for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. They brought her on as a "girl writer." She was established as Carson's first female regular guest host by 1983.

In 1986, Fox offered Rivers The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, which made her a Carson competitor. 

In 1989, she began hosting daytime talk show The Joan Rivers Show. She won an Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host in 1990. 

In 1995, Joan and her daughter Melissa began hosting the E! Entertainment pre-awards show for the Oscars. She covered the red carpet for E! until 2003, at which time she left to work with TV Channel Guide.   

Since 2010, Joan co-hosted E!'s show Fashion Police, delighting in the dos and don'ts of celebrity fashion. Here, she holds her own amongst Vegas showgirls in 1980.

Joan Rivers is the author of 12 books, including most recently, I Hate Everyone...Starting with Me, and Diary of a Mad Diva.

The age of Joan's average viewer is 22 and a half, she told MAKERS. Accordingly, she launched a YouTube talk show in 2013 called In Bed with Joan, where she invites guests to join her in her real bedroom in Malibu, California. 

Joan Rivers has always ruffled feathers and prioritized humor over sensitivity. We applaud her courage and determination. She told us, "The nicest compliment anyone can give me is, 'You say what I think.'" Joan, you have often said what we are afraid to. You asked the hard questions, and made bold, fabulous statements. On this sad day, we commemorate your passion for life and your comedic nerves of steel.