The Surprising Things You Never Knew About Joan Rivers

The legendary comedian was known for being brutally honest, but many aspects of Joan Rivers’ life never went public until her tragic death. From her epic feuds to her daily habits, these are the most surprising facts about Rivers, including the details behind her unexpected death (page 10).

1. Joan Rivers wasn’t her real name

Joan Rivers poses for a portrait
Actress Joan Rivers in 1987 | Harry Langdon/GettyImages

The star was actually born Joan Alexandra Molinsky, but like many other celebrities, she adopted a more Hollywood-friendly moniker. “Joan Rivers” wasn’t her only alias! When she did stand-up she went by Pepper January.

Next: Johnny Carson launched her career — and then hung up on her.

2. Johnny Carson never spoke to Rivers again

Joan Rivers with host Johnny Carson in 1986
Comedian Joan Rivers with host Johnny Carson in 1986 | Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

As The Tonight Show‘s permanent guest host from 1983 to 1986, Rivers credited Carson with launching her career, but the two never spoke again after she left to host The Late Show with Joan Rivers. Carson hung up on Rivers when she said she was leaving. Rivers told The Hollywood Reporter about their feud:

I kept saying, “I don’t understand, why is he mad?” He was not angry at anybody else. I think he really felt because I was a woman that I just was his. That I wouldn’t leave him. I know this sounds very warped … But I think it was a question of, “I found you, and you’re my property.”

Next: The horrific death of her second husband 

3. Rivers lost a husband to suicide

Edgar Rosenberg and wife, comedienne Joan Rivers
Edgar Rosenberg and Joan Rivers | David Mcgough/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Many called Rivers a “two-time divorcee,” however her second husband and manager, Edgar Rosenberg, killed himself after Fox fired the couple from The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers in 1987. They’d been married for 22 years, and Rivers believed he had depression due to medication he was taking to treat a prior heart attack.

Next: The aftermath of her husband’s suicide 

4. Rivers considered suicide, too

Joan Rivers, Chris Rock, Pee Wee Herman, Howie Mandel
Holding her dog Spike and with fellow comics, Chris Rock, Pee Wee Herman, and Howie Mandel, Joan Rivers ends her show. | Bettmann/Getty Images

The comedian later told the Daily Beast she contemplated suicide eight months after her husband’s death. “Melissa wasn’t talking to me, my career was in the toilet, I’d lost my Vegas contracts, I’d been fired from Fox … I thought, ‘What’s the point? This is stupid.'” She credits her Yorkie, Spike, for saving her life. The dog jumped into her lap, and she realized no one would care for him. “I had the gun in my lap, and the dog sat on the gun.”

Next: All the times she took her jokes too far…

5. She crossed the line with her comedy — and was proud of it

Joan Rivers and daughter Melissa leaving the Synagogue
Joan and daughter Melissa following a memorial service for Rivers’ husband | Bettmann/Getty Images

The comedian once told the Queen of England to shave her legs. Days after her husband committed suicide she joked to her daughter while at dinner, “If Daddy were here and saw these prices, he’d kill himself all over again.” This may be what made Rivers successful. “I love when they say I’ve crossed a line. On the scale of 1 to Osama bin Laden, I didn’t blow up buildings. I made a joke,” she said in her final major interview before her death.

Next: Her extravagant lifestyle in Manhattan 

6. Rivers loved to collect china

The Private Collection Of Joan Rivers at Christie's Auction House
The Private Collection Of Joan Rivers at Christie’s Auction House | Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

In her 2010 documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, the comedian explained her Manhattan apartment: “This is how Marie Antoinette would have lived if she had money.” Her $150 million estate included an extensive china collection; guests never ate from the same china pattern twice.

In 2016, auction house Christie’s sold over 200 pieces from Rivers’ collection. Marjorie Stern, a businesswoman and friend, said, “[Rivers] had closets full of silver and china … She mixed heirloom silver service pieces and antique china with modern things we used to buy together at the New York Gift Show. Her spirit was such a part of the apartment.”

Next: Rivers’ surprisingly thrifty sideN

7. She loved to wear outfits again and again

Joan Rivers and Dolly Parton at a Christmas party in 1988.
Joan Rivers and Dolly Parton at a Christmas party in 1988 | Ron Galella/WireImage

Known for daring outfits and scathing style opinions, Rivers believed if you spent a lot on clothes, you should wear them more than once, according to Bustle. Long before her E! show, Fashion Police, the red-carpet host wore striking outfits, often re-wearing statement necklaces, fur coats, and bold blazers. She also frequented thrift stores often.

Next: How Rivers paid off $37 million in debt

8. She made her fortune from QVC

Comedy Central hosted a roast of Joan Rivers in 2009.
Comedy Central hosted a roast of Joan Rivers in 2009. | Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Comedy made her famous, but Rivers amassed her wealth thanks to QVC. Her clothing, beauty, and accessory lines totaled over $1 billion in sales during its 24-year run on QVC. Prior to the shopping network, Rivers was $37 million in debt. After joining QVC, Rivers’ Classics Collection “became a regular high-point on QVC earnings calls in the late ’90s,” reports Forbes. With an estimated income of $250 million over those 24 years, she made $10.4 million (pretax) annually. Not too shabby.

Next: Her honest stance on paying to be pretty

9. Rivers was very pro-plastic surgery

TV personality Joan Rivers
Joan Rivers at party in 1993 | Steve Eichner/Getty Images

Of Rivers’ procedures — nose job, eyes, facelift, breast reduction, chin tuck, botox, collagen, and more — she only regretted liposuction because she did not vet the doctor well. When asked when one should start having nips and tucks, Rivers replied, “The younger the better.” At 75 years old, Rivers published a book Men Are Stupid And They Like Big Boobs: A Woman’s Guide to Beauty Through Plastic Surgery. She told People, “I got very involved in researching it. Anyone who thinks plastic surgery is fluffy is a fool.”

Next: The details behind Rivers’ tragic death

10. A minor elective throat surgery ended her life

Joan and Melissa Rivers
Melissa and Joan Rivers | Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

In September 2014, during routine throat surgery, the 81-year-old comedian went into cardiac arrest. She spent about a week in a medically induced coma before passing away. Rivers’ daughter, Melissa, sued for medical malpractice after she found that a doctor, who wasn’t supposed to be in the operating room, took a selfie with Rivers during the procedure.

Rivers had recently been asked if she thought about her own death. She’d replied, “Constantly. In your 80s, you’d be foolish not to think about that. I am definitely going to be cremated. I’ve left money so the dogs can be taken care of. I’ve said to Melissa, “Sell anything and everything you don’t want.”

Next: The “special team” sent to Rivers’ hospital room

11. Rivers passed away ‘in style’

Joan Rivers' play
Joan Rivers loved having a glam squad. | Rune Hellestad/Corbis via Getty Images

After her mother’s death, Melissa appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, explaining she knew her stylish mother would want to look glamorous even while in a coma. Melissa employed a “glam squad,” who did Joan’s hair and makeup and dressed her in her favorite lounge outfit. Melissa told Dr. Oz, “Her best friend kept saying, ‘God, her skin looks so good. Joan, your skin is so good. Wake up, you have to see this.'”

Next: From TV personality to reality TV star

12. Joan Rivers won the reality TV competition Celebrity Apprentice 

Donald Trump, Joan Rivers and Melania Trump
Donald Trump, Joan Rivers and Melania Trump attend The Celebrity Apprentice season finale. | Brad Barket/Getty Images

In 2009, the comedian won season eight of Celebrity Apprentice, the reality TV show famously hosted by Donald Trump. Beating pro poker player Annie Duke, Rivers raised $150,000 for the charity God’s Love We Deliver, which provides meals to ill people. Her opponent, Duke, said of Rivers, “She’s an amazing lady, but she’s not a nice lady.”

Next: One of the last lawsuits Rivers nearly faced

13. Actress Kristen Stewart nearly sued Rivers over her final book

Joan Rivers promotes her book three months before death
Joan Rivers during a book signing a few months before her death | J. Countess/Getty Images

Rivers enraged many celebs over the years, but she got the final say in her last book, Diary of a Mad Diva, published a few months before her death. Among many statements in the “comedic tome,” Rivers wrote, “The best one-trick-pony is Kristen Stewart, who got a whole career by being able to juggle a director’s balls.”

Rivers told the Daily Beast, “[Stewart’s] lawyer called my lawyer and wanted the book to be taken from bookstores or a public apology and my lawyer — I love him so much — said, ‘Have you read the book, have you seen the disclaimer?’ It’s a comedy book.” The book also reportedly upset Adele and the Kardashian family.

Next: The secret behind the comedian’s trim figure

14. Rivers maintained her figure through one exercise

TV personality Joan Rivers at Race To Deliver Aids Benefit
Rivers at the 10th annual Race To Deliver aids benefit in 2003 | Peter Kramer/Getty Images

The comedian loved to walk. Rivers aimed to walk at least three miles a day no matter where she’s traveled, whether in an airport or on the Paris streets. With a trim figure, this form of exercise seemed to work well for Rivers, who notoriously hated the gym.

Next: Rivers’ guilty pleasure

15. She loved Italian food

Joan Melissa and Cooper Rivers on ABC's 'Celebrity Wife Swap'
Rivers with Melissa and grandson Cooper on Celebrity Wife Swap in 2013. | Rick Rowell/ABC via Getty Images

Rivers’ love of all things European extended to her meals. The comedian loved Italian food, often dining out with family and friends at notable Italian spots. She even stated once that her last meal would be lasagna, noodles, and cannolis. Incidentally, Rivers wasn’t a talented cook. She said the only thing she successfully made was a good omelet.