Comedians are often a lot more serious and reserved than their onstage personae, and so it was with Joan Rivers, who died Sept. 4 after complications from throat surgery at age 81. She was known for being loud and outrageous, abrasive even, a tough woman in a man’s world. But offstage, she was gracious and kind.
It’s perhaps fitting that I should be one of the last people to interview her, because she was one of my first celebrity interviews years ago when I was a cub reporter with Gannett. I remember visiting her at a Manhattan hotel suite, where we chatted while she did a patriotic needlepoint accompanied by one of her perennial lap dogs. She was in a sense like any other well-to-do Larchmont matron, albeit one who didn’t mince words. She told me that when people in the audience shouted out that they were from Larchmont, too, she’d shoot back, “Yeah? What exit on the Hutchinson River Parkway?” just to make sure they were telling the truth.
She made this reporter’s day by complimenting me on my black-and-cream-colored ensemble and jewelry and having me twirl around so she could see it in full. Rivers had that gift for making you feel special.
I’m no longer that young reporter, and when we last talked – for June WAG about her WE show “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?” and a recent appearance at Peekskill’s Paramount Hudson Valley Theater http://www.wagmag.com/joan-talks-pet-bereavement/ — age and death were very much on her mind. (She had lost one of her pooches, the subject of a “Joan & Melissa” episode.)
Yet age had been a surprising liberator for the woman who was all about nips, tucks and free speech.
“Some of my friends are dying or ill,” she told me. “You might as well do what you want to do. … It’s the nicest thing about getting old.”
And now she’s gone and 81 seems too young.