Joan Rivers: A Look Back At Her Complicated Humor, Life and Death

Herbie J Pilato


She was one of America’s preeminent female stand-up comedians. She was aggressive like Don Rickles but had a heart of gold. She played it all for laughs on stage but in real life, it was a different story. She was a dotting grandmother, and a dear friend to many in the entertainment industry such as Carol Burnett, who recently turned 90 years old. Her name was Joan Rivers and had lived, she, too, would have turned 90 years old...on June 8, 2023.

Instead, Rivers died on September 4, 2014, at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. According to The New York Times, she had been taken there from an outpatient surgery clinic after experiencing cardiac arrest and losing consciousness. Rivers had been in the clinic for a minor procedure on her vocal cords. But things took a turn for the worse.

A Closer Look

As the New York medical examiner later revealed that Rivers died of “therapeutic complications” during a procedure to evaluate her “voice changes” and stomach reflux. “The classification of a death as a therapeutic complication means that the death resulted from a predictable complication of medical therapy,” the report said.

The medical examiner’s investigation ruled that the cause of death was “anoxic encephalopathy due to hypoxic arrest,” a medical description of brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen. The arrest happened “during laryngoscopy and upper gastrointestinal endoscopy with propofol sedation for evaluation of voice changes and gastroesophageal reflux disease,” the medical examiner further explained.

The issue, in this particular instance, was laryngospasm – a spasm of the vocal cords that makes it difficult to breathe, pathologist and surgeon Bill Lloyd told at the time. The situation was compounded when Rivers went into cardiac arrest.


The demise of Joan Rivers was a traumatic and sad ending to a performer who brought a great deal of you to the way if a very abrasive manner. But somehow, she still managed to make people smile, because her humor, at times, rang so very true.

But more than anything to those closest to her, and for those affected directly, Joan Rivers was a generous human being. She had dedicated much of her time and money to several charitable causes.

[Note: Unless otherwise indicated, certain facts and information in this article were resourced from various entertainment news and media outlets including,,,,, and]

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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