What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Barbara Walters praises Joan Rivers, the ‘consummate performer’

Read the Full Transcript

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And finally tonight, a look back at the work, the life and the impact of one of the pioneers for women in comedy, Joan Rivers.

    Flowers and remembrances continued to pile up from outside her New York home to her star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame for the tart-tongued, quick-witted comedian who refused to accept and blew right past many boundaries.

    Last night, David Letterman recalled Joan Rivers' resolve.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    And talk about guts. She would come out here and sit in this chair and say some things that were unbelievable.

  • PAUL SHAFFER:

    Yes.

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    Just where you would have to swallow pretty hard, and twice.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DAVID LETTERMAN:

    But it was hilarious. And she stood behind her jokes and, to my knowledge, would say these things and never apologize.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Others took to Twitter, including comedian Sarah Silverman, who wrote: "My heart is torn in half. She wasn't done."

  • Wanda Sykes tweeted:

    "We have lost a true legend. Thank you, Joan, for paving the way for broads like me."

    Barbara Walters, a friend of Rivers, spoke by phone with us today.

  • BARBARA WALTERS:

    What made her special was that she loved what she did. There are a lot of comedians and there are actors who don't really enjoy the performing, public part of their lives.

    She did. She would perform for three people in a room. We had been saying to each other, the friends, that she would be thrilled with the outpouring from all over the world. She was the consummate performer. She loved it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Joan Rivers was born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in Brooklyn in 1933 to Russian Jewish immigrants. After rising up through the comedy scene in Greenwich Village, in the early 1960s, she performed on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

  • JOHNNY CARSON:

    Who not only writes funny. She is funny, herself. Would you welcome please Joan Rivers.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And alongside Johnny Carson, when he was guest host of "The Sammy Davis Jr. Show." Their relationship would prove crucial to Rivers' career, yielding many laughs over many years for Carson and his "Tonight Show" audience.

  • JOHNNY CARSON:

    Don't you think men really like intelligence more when it comes right down to it?

  • JOAN RIVERS:

    Oh, please. Are we going to go back to that? Are you kidding?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JOHNNY CARSON:

    No, sure. I mean, it's a brain, you know.

  • JOAN RIVERS:

    No man has ever put his hand up a woman's dress looking for a library card. I am sorry.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • MAN:

    Here's Joan Rivers.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In 1983, Rivers became the first permanent guest host for Carson on NBC, which led to her own late-night show in 1986 on rival network FOX.

  • JOAN RIVERS:

    I am just so, so happy to be here, and I thank you all so much.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But she and Carson fell out over the move. The two never reconciled.

    And her show was canceled after a brief run. Only months later, her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, the show's producer, committed suicide. Despite the heartache, Rivers bounced back, reinventing herself as an Emmy Award-winning daytime talk show host. All the while, she continued to tour comedy clubs and became an acerbic red carpet critic alongside daughter Melissa.

    Rivers herself was often criticized for her dependence on cosmetic surgery, which she didn't hide.

  • JOAN RIVERS:

    And I always recommend doing a little at a time, a little bit at a time. Otherwise, you're going to look like you have been through a wind tunnel.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In her later years Rivers maintained a breakneck work pace, as she toured hundreds of comedy clubs a year and appeared on reality TV shows.

    In this 2010 documentary about her life, Rivers described the importance of continuing to work.

  • JOAN RIVERS:

    If my book ever looked like this, it would mean that nobody wants me, that everything I ever tried to do in life didn't work, nobody cared, and I have been totally forgotten.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Two years later, she looked back at her career, playing herself on Louis C.K.'s show, "Louie."

  • JOAN RIVERS:

    I wish I could tell you it gets better, but it doesn't get better. You get better. It isn't easy. I have gone up, I have gone down, I have been bankrupt, I have been broke. But you do it, and you do it because — because we love it more than anything else.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And for all of her bite, Walters said Joan Rivers was a true friend.

  • BARBARA WALTERS:

    What I will miss most was when we had dinners, Joan and myself and another friend or two, the humor, the honesty, the self-deprecating part of her life. She was great company. And I was fortunate to see that, not only on camera, but privately, and I will — I will really miss her. A lot of us will.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Last week, Rivers was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York after her heart stopped during routine vocal cord surgery at an outpatient facility. She died after being taken off life support Thursday afternoon. Joan Rivers was 81 years old.

    Online, you can watch more videos of Joan Rivers, including her appearance on the PBS documentary film "Pioneers of Television."