Thursday, September 4, 2014

Remembering Joan Rivers

Broadway dims its lights when a famous actor dies and I'm wondering who will dim their lights tonight for Joan Rivers, the pioneering comedienne who did it her way no matter how tough things got.  Today, we heard the news none of us wanted to hear because we were all hoping she'd pull through this latest life blow and be sitting up joking in her hospital bed, prompting the staff to have side pains from the laughter she brought everywhere with her. But it wasn't to be.

Joan, you went out at the top of your game and who knows how much longer we could have had your comedy to bring us through our own hard times. It could have been more years than the 81 years we were all given, but we can be thankful for what we've had.

I once did a radio show with Joan. I have no idea why they called me, but maybe I was doing a lot of TV at that time and I was getting a lot of calls. Her show was in New York City and it was a phoner for about 15 minutes. As usualy, she poked fun at me and that was to be expected.

"Look at this shrink," I recall she said, "She is not only licensed here, she's licensed in Florida. Wonder how she makes it to all her appointments." Yes, I laughed and I told her that she had the most wonderful gift and that it truly should be considered medicine because I think of laughter as medicine. I'm not alone in that because even medical schools have included humor in their curriculum. Look what Patch Adams did for his patients. There are now studies of the science of humor. 

Christiopher Reeves, while in the hospital after his accident, suddenly saw a physician he didn't know come into the room who begin to tell jokes and poke fun at him. It was, of course, the wonderful Robin Williams who also understood the value of laughter.

Laughter allows us respite from pain. There's no denying that and we've lost one of its greatest practitioners. Nothing was off limits and that is as it should be. When Joan saw Heidi Klum, it's said she made a joke about hot Germans and the Holocaust. Many people didn't like it, but even that topic was fair game. Psychologists have looked at laughter and how in tragic times it helps us to go on.

Joan Rivers had seen her own darkest hours, but she wouldn't fall down. Maybe that's why she became such a top-notch comic performer. She understood where humor came from and how her's had been born.

Tragedy didn't stop her, it motivated her. She got up and began to reinvent herself all over again. Johnny Carson, who had made her a star, turned his back on her when she had signed a deal for her own TV show and he never talked to her again. Her husband committed suicide, she went bankrupt and she didn't know if she'd ever work again. But she did because she always saw the possibilities that were still there, not the ones that had been denied her.

An interview that Joan and her daughter, Melissa, gave a few years ago was an opportunity for them to state the philosophy that guides their lives. What was the best advice Joan ever gave to her daughter? Melissa responded, "This too shall pass." She was right. It will pass but it won't be easy and it will take time. Remember the good times and laugh when you recall the ones that were hysterical because it can help.

We will miss Joan Rivers greatly, but boy were we lucky to have her.