joan rivers

At a youthful 81 years old, the shockingly funny queen fashionista of Hollywood Joan Rivers has passed away. I'm terribly sad. I feel like I have to now say goodbye to an icon, a legend, the most groundbreaking female comedian of our time. But while she was obviously all of those things, she was also someone I made friends with.

Upon learning Joan Rivers was hospitalized in critical condition last week, my heart sank. "Joooooannnnn!" I cried to my husband. He, understandably, looked at me like I was losing my mind. I clarified, explaining what had happened. Although I am sure he still thinks I'm crazy, he got it.

He knows that 10 years ago, Joan was doing press in the lead-up to her show at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston. She agreed to speak with me for my college newspaper.

Having grown up watching her sassy, brassy red carpet interviews, I didn't know what to expect. But whatever it was could have never prepared me for what ended up happening when we connected on the phone ...

From the word go, she was ON FIRE. Full of verve, pizzazz, and cracking jokes right and left. I'll never forget how I asked her what she thought about the controversy swirling about Mel Gibson's anti-Semitism at the time. She said that if she saw him, she would kick him under the table. OMG!

Of course, anyone who has even watched two minutes of Fashion Police knows full well that the woman pulls NO punches, but I suppose I wasn't prepared for her to unleash that take-no-prisoners, caustic wit in my little Q&A. But the interview wasn't limited to one-liners and celeb-ripping. I felt like we just gabbed and connected, like new friends.

I kept thinking at any moment, her publicist was going to say "time's up!" or that she would get silent in the way that stars often do when they're ready to call it quits with a reporter. But no. At least an hour or more went by before I wished her the best of luck with her show, promised I'd be there to see it, and hung up.

Then, I sat there in shock, unbelieving that a living legend like Joan Rivers had actually given a lowly college journalist like me so much time. But that's just reflective of who she was: full of life and generous.

I feel like I learned so much from Joan in just one hour, but she taught Hollywood and the world more than a thing or two over the course of her incredible career. Among her best life lessons:

  1. Age means absolutely nothing. You're as old as you feel -- or as fast as you can talk -- period, the end.
  2. You always get another chance. Not only losing her husband to his suicide, but admitting that at one time, she contemplated killing herself as well, Joan was no stranger to darkness. Or to being ostracized in showbiz. But she continued to rise up like a phoenix, giving life and her career another go and a new makeover time and again.
  3. Own even your most controversial choices. Case in point: Joan joked, "I've had so much plastic surgery, when I die, they will donate my body to Tupperware." Talking about owning it.
  4. Tell it like it is. Joan never saw the point of beating around the bush, whether she was skewering a star's couture gown, entire career (for which she actually received a legal threat from one Kristen Stewart!), or her own sex life. Hey, honesty is the best policy, especially if it leaves you in stitches.
  5. There's no mountain too tall to attempt to climb. (Even for women, in Hollywood.) Women simply didn't become comedians in Joan's early days. They certainly didn't go toe-to-toe with Johnny Carson. But she did. And she proved herself a force to be reckoned with time and again.

Surely, with news of Joan's passing, jokes about her plastic surgery and sharp tongue will run rampant. But she would have been the first to crack 'em. For that, and for so much more, she'll undoubtedly be remembered -- especially by those who were lucky enough to meet her, if even briefly, like I did -- as brave, vivacious, resilient, a trailblazer, completely cool, and incredibly, impossibly extraordinary.

What's your favorite Joan Rivers memory or quote?

 

Image via EM Hillock/Splash News