Joan Rivers: What You Don’t Know About Her

A personal reflection on Joan Rivers, a mother, grandmother, comedienne, actress, author, playwright, screen writer, film director, entrepreneur and so much more… please read to learn more about this internationally renowned personality and why the Adoption STAR CEO and Founder is writing about her.

By Michele Fried

First I want to make it clear that there are probably only two people who knew Joan Rivers the best ~ Her daughter Melissa, and her beloved grandson, Cooper.

Joan also had many friends. She was genuinely well liked and known as an unconditional friend and had a large social circle. Joan’s friends come in all shapes and sizes and colors. Many are famous and some are not. Joan enjoyed entertaining and spending time with friends and family.

Joan was a philanthropist – donated not only financially but giving her time to supporting and promoting HIV and AIDS awareness. She was an active volunteer for many AIDS related organizations including Gods Love We Deliver. In fact, San Diego, CA coined her “Joan of Arc” because of her overwhelming amount of work in their community with HIV and AIDS.

Joan was also an animal lover, having rescue dogs as fur babies herself. She also supported Guide Dogs for the Blind and many other animal welfare organizations and efforts. “Dogs are easier to love than people; they’re certainly more dependable… Once they love you, that’s it. A true friend in life is a dog.” Joan was often seen walking her dogs in New York City. “I cannot remember ever not having a dog in my life. I recently started to make a list of all the dogs that have been in my life. It’s not easy, you know I’m 80! Many dogs have passed through my life.”

Additionally Joan donated to many Jewish charities, the HRC, and suicide prevention causes. It is well known that Joan’s husband Edgar committed suicide in 1987, Joan herself contemplated suicide and turned her life around.

Whether you are supportive of plastic surgery or not, it doesn’t matter, Joan was transparent about every nip and tuck she had and used herself within her quirky jokes. “I’ve had so much plastic surgery, when I die they will donate my body to Tupperware.”

I loved Joan Rivers and I loved her humor. If you didn’t, that’s okay. But perhaps you didn’t get it. Her humor is described as tough talking and satirical – praised as well as controversial – gossipy and often abrasive. My daughter, Zenobia, would call this type of humor Sassy and I wouldn’t be surprised if she too found a voice amongst the many women comediennes today as she is a natural.

Joan Rivers led the way for many women in comedy. She was genuinely a pioneer. She did not lie down for political correctiveness and spoke from the hip. Making fun of herself, her family, celebrities, and the very causes she supported as a way to bring awareness to very sensitive subjects. Just like the man who eulogized her at her funeral, Howard Stern, also a man who became infamous with a similar style of humor. Like it or not, Joan had an unbelievable career. Joan made me laugh.

But maybe you knew all of this already and maybe you also know that Joan Rivers was actually her stage name, that in 1965 she became known because she was on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, that she was the first woman to host a late night talk show, that she interviewed celebrities on the red carpet, was on QVC, authored many books, that she had one child, that she had a funeral for her dog Max, and that she died at age 81.

But what you may not know is that I met Joan Rivers.

You may be too young to remember The Joan Rivers Show (1989-1993) where she actually won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show Host! In fact the show I was on was in her first season. Why? Joan was a supporter of adoption. She spoke out about transracial adoption (thought it wasn’t coined that then) and was concerned after learning that her friend who was a foster mother could not adopt the little boy who she raised from birth – because he was Black and she was not. Joan was outraged and hurt for her friend and for the little boy and shared this story with my husband Chuck and I while we stood with her one day in January 1990.

We were only 25 years old. We had two young children and I was running a small adoption agency. I don’t remember how the show learned about us because we didn’t have Internet presence in those days! But I do remember the call, because I thought it was a joke ~ who would scam me with a call from The Joan Rivers Show? That was all that was running through my head! Luckily, I did not hang up! Typically Joan taped her shows in New York City – in those days we lived in Philadelphia, so it would have been a fairly quick trip to NYC. But our luck, Joan was taping the first of the year in California – so off we flew – all expenses paid – to Los Angeles! A first time for us ~ extra exciting!

With photos of our boys in hand and a story to share, we nervously arrived via limo to a building and were brought into the green room. Which by the way is not green. Charlton Heston was scheduled to be on her show that day too. He must have been in another green room. The other guests that were present to debate the topic of interracial adoption were actually guests because I recommended them. I knew them from the adoption community and knew they had strong feelings against white parents adopting out of their race so of course, to make the show more interesting we joined together. Honestly, we were all friendly. The social worker present was a professional peer in Philadelphia and I would like to say we had mutual respect for one another. We had many good sit down discussions over the years and I know I learned quite a bit from her. I hope she can say the same.

So the topic White Couples Adopt Black Babies ran on January 4, 1990. I honestly did not love the experience and never agreed to be on another national talk show since (even though we were asked by many over the years such as Dr. Phil, Sally Jesse Raphael, Ricki Lake, etc ~ though Ellen @TheEllenShow if you’re reading, I may say YES to you!)

I was young and naïve then and didn’t realize all the hype behind the scenes. While it may not be my cup of tea, it was nonetheless amazing to meet Joan in person, I remember first thinking, “Oh my goodness, she is so little!” I didn’t realize how little and adorable she was and beautiful! She may have been little but her impact on the world has been large. Certainly for me it has been. Joan Rivers put my adoption agency on the map. My little agency that started off at my tiny kitchen table in a small Philadelphia apartment grew leaps and bounds the day the episode aired and then those viewers talked and others talked and the rest is history. If we had cell phones then, Joan and I would have taken a selfie, I’m sure, but I only have my memories and a bad VHS copy of the show!

I later saw Joan again just a couple years ago in person on an airplane leaving Buffalo, NY. She was sitting in coach chatting away to a random stranger lucky enough to sit next to her. I am sure that stranger has even more insights to the memorable and magnificent Joan Rivers. May she rest in peace.

If you haven’t watched the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, I encourage you to do so. It provides a really neat behind the scenes look at Joan’s life – at times raw and painful – but worth the time.