A Look Back at the Life of Joan Rivers

Here at Barnard College, we pride ourselves on being ‘bold and beautiful’ women. Phi Beta Kappa Barnard alum, Joan Rivers - born Joan Alexandra Molinsky – was both.

Joan died yesterday at the age of 81 years old from a cardiac arrest, leaving both Barnard and the world having lost a maverick and one hell of a lady.The legendary comedian was far more than her bottle-blond, heavily-botoxed character. She was a gutsy beacon of comedy who paved the way for young, fearless, and untraditional women.

Originally born in Brooklyn, Rivers was the youngest daughter of two Russian immigrants, who had high expectations of their children.

While at Barnard College, Rivers studied both English literature and Anthropology. She also appeared in various campus productions. 

After graduating from Barnard in 1954, she pursued a career in comedy.  After a guest-appearance on ‘The Tonight Show’ with Johnny Carson in 1965, she went on to become one of the first successful female stand-up comics in entertainment.

Rivers remains best known for her raunchy, harsh, and truthful jokes.  But she also had brains, the ability to laugh at herself, and the guts to say what was on her mind. Her jokes could be crude, but her words were her own, and Rivers possessed the bravery to vocalize her opinions publicly.

Brave as she was hilarious, Rivers underwent a series of major challenges in her personal life - most notable, her husband, Edgar Rosenberg's, suicide in 1987. Soon after her husband’s death, Rivers joked during a performance, “My whole life has been so horrendous this year…Thank God my husband left in his will that I should cremate him and then scatter his ashes in Neiman Marcus. That way he knew he would see me five times a week.” River’s possessed a beautiful, and independent strength and will that was beyond comparison.

Whether you agree or disagree with River’s opinions and jokes, she remains a truly iconic figure. Perhaps she toted the line of political correctness, but she was bold and in that way she was beautiful.