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Associated Press
Show-business veteran and prominent comedian Joan Rivers died Thursday at a New York hospital.

Comedian Rivers, 81, dies week after cardiac arrest

Joan Rivers, a stand-up comedian, writer and outrageous television personality best known for hurling cutting barbs at fellow celebrities as well as herself, has died. She was 81.

She died Thursday, according to an emailed statement by her daughter, Melissa Rivers. She was admitted to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York on Aug. 28 after going into cardiac arrest during a throat procedure.

With her rapid-fire, nasal, Brooklyn-inflected delivery, Rivers specialized in celebrity gossip, ribaldry and insults, regaling audiences with the catchphrase, “Can we talk?”

“Elizabeth Taylor’s so fat she puts mayonnaise on aspirin,” she cracked. Another of her zingers: “Bo Derek is so dumb she studies for a Pap test.”

Having been in show business for more than half a century, Rivers was perhaps most famous for her annual TV appearances at the Oscars and other awards shows, where she provided snarky commentary on red-carpet couture, helped by a panel from her weekly show “Fashion Police” on the E! Network.

As a proponent of plastic surgery, Rivers made no apologies for her multiple procedures, saying: “Better a new face coming out of an old car than an old face coming out of a new car.”

She also was the star, with her daughter, of the reality show “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?” on WE TV and an Internet interview show, “In Bed With Joan.”

Joan Alexandra Molinsky was born on June 8, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, according to an article she wrote in 2006 for the New York Times. Her parents, Meyer C. Molinsky, a physician, and the former Beatrice Grushman, were Russian Jewish immigrants who eventually settled in Larchmont, a wealthy New York City suburb.

Later, she mined her childhood for comic material.

“I knew I was an unwanted baby when I saw that my bath toys were a toaster and a radio,” she said.

Rivers’ first jobs were in the fashion industry. She quit to pursue acting in the late 1950s. In 1961, she joined the improvisation troupe Second City in Chicago, where she honed her comic persona.

She first came to national attention as a guest on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson in 1965. By the late 1970s, she was one of the most prominent comedians in the country, making regular appearances on TV, in the movies and performing stand-up in Las Vegas.

In 1986, Rivers announced she would host a late-night talk show on the new Fox TV network, alienating Carson, her longtime mentor. Her show flopped, and she was fired in 1987. Shortly afterward, her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, the show’s executive producer, committed suicide.

In 1992, Rivers began selling a line of jewelry on QVC, then expanded into clothing and fashion items. In 1995, she began doing fashion commentary at awards shows.

She stayed busy writing books of comedy, memoirs and fashion advice – about a dozen in all.

“My mother’s greatest joy in life was to make people laugh,” Melissa Rivers said. “Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon.”

Rivers is survived by her daughter and a grandson.