Joan Rivers Once Accused Johnny Carson of Treating Her Like His ‘Property’ Because She Was a Woman

Johnny Carson and Joan Rivers were friends and colleagues for several years. However, the two comedy stars eventually stopped talking. Rivers once claimed it was because of the Tonight Show host’s sexist attitude towards her.

Joan Rivers says Johnny Carson didn’t speak to her for 19 years before his death

Joan Rivers during an interview with host Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show 1986
Joan Rivers and host Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show on Apr. 25, 1986 | Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

As Rivers wrote in The Hollywood Reporter in 2012, Carson told her on The Tonight Show in 1965, “You’re gonna be a star.”

The late-night talk show host gave Rivers a shot as a young female comedian in the 1960s, and in return, Rivers said she “adored Johnny.”

“In the ’70s, I did opening monologues, I was hosting,” she recalled. Rivers often filled in as a guest host for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

However, as Rivers noted: “The turning point was when I left the show.”

She didn’t think it would be a big deal at first

“Everybody left the show to go to do their own shows,” she wrote in THR. “Bill Cosby. David Brenner. George Carlin. Everybody. I stuck around for 18 years. And they finally offered me my own late-night show.”

At the time, FOX offered Rivers her very own talk show. Of course, she wanted to share the news — so she reached out to Carson.

“The first person I called was Johnny,” she wrote. However, Carson didn’t respond as Rivers expected.

“He hung up on me — and never, ever spoke to me again,” the comedian explained. “And then denied that I called him.”

It puzzled Rivers for years after the fact. Even after Rivers’ show got canceled, Carson refused to speak to her.

“I couldn’t figure it out,” she wrote in the 2012 article. “I would see him in a restaurant and go over and say hello. He wouldn’t talk to me.”

Rivers accused Johnny Carson of treating her like his ‘property’

Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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However, Rivers eventually developed a hunch what it was all about: sexism.

“I think he really felt because I was a woman that I just was his,” she argued. “That I wouldn’t leave him.” The Fashion Police alum acknowledged that this was a bold take.

“I know this sounds very warped,” she continued. “But I don’t understand otherwise what was going on. For years, I thought that maybe he liked me better than the others.”

However, over time, Rivers came to understand that Carson’s attitude towards her was: “I found you, and you’re my property.” For male comedians, perhaps, he could brush off that kind of betrayal — but not for a female comic.

“He didn’t like that as a woman, I went up against him,” Rivers wrote.

The media narrative didn’t help. Carson was telling reporters: “She didn’t call me, and she was so terrible.”

“When you’ve told the truth and you read a lie, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Rivers lamented. “To this day, I’m very angry about that.”