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Joan Rivers obituary: 'If you laugh, you can deal with it'

Joan Rivers was loved by audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. Credit: Yui Mok/PA Archive

I ain't afraid of death. I'm in show business. I died a million times.

– Joan Rivers to TIME, 1983

Never one to dodge a punch, Joan Rivers may well be remembered best for her acerbic jokes about other women.

Earlier in her career, Elisabeth Taylor was one of the regular victims of her one-liners.

"Elizabeth Taylor fat? Her favourite food is seconds," she once quipped.

But Taylor wasn't the only one. Film star and model Bo Derek was another that came in her line of fire.

She was on the end of the gag: "Bo Derek is so stupid she returns bowling balls because they've got holes in them."

Rivers won an Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host in 1990. Credit: APTN

Some may have confused her barbs as bitchiness.

However, what made Rivers stand out in a comedy world dominated by men was her ability to turn the spotlight on women's issues or perceived insecurities that no-one talked about on television - and make everybody laugh in the process.

In fact her favourite target was herself, throughout her life finding new ways to reel off the funniest insults - whether about her sex appeal or her infamous plastic surgery - before anyone else had the chance.

My best birth control now is just to leave the lights on.

– Joan Rivers

Breaking into the industry was no walk in the park - but as anyone who has seen her live will attest, the Brooklyn-born entertainer was tenacious.

It all began with legendary talk show host Johnny Carson, with whom she enjoyed her big break on The Tonight Show after several rejections.

(Footage courtesy of The Tonight Show/Johnny Carson/YouTube)

Throughout her five decades telling jokes, she worked on her own terms in roles ranging from talk-show host to stand-up turn - allowing her to enjoy a career that lasted longer than many of her peers lived.

But her life was not without crisis or tragedy. In 1987, Edgar Rosenberg, her husband of 23 years committed suicide - shortly after she had been fired from a Fox talk show which he produced.

The failure of the show was a major factor, she said, and it was two years before her career was to get going on.

Rivers at the Royal Variety Performance in 1996. Credit: Doug McKenzie/EMPICS Entertainment

"Nobody wants to see someone whose husband has killed himself do comedy four weeks later," she said in an interview with The New York Times three years later.

However, once it got back up and running Rivers was a regular face on our screens right up until the year of her surprise death, which came following a cardiac arrest during a routine throat operation.

Thankfully for her fans, she never stopped joking to the end.

(Footage courtesy of the BBC/YouTube)

"The trouble with me is I make jokes too often," she said last year, just days after the death of her elder sister.

"I was making jokes yesterday at the funeral home. That's how I get through life. Life is SO difficult - everybody's been through something! But you laugh at it, it becomes smaller."

Upon announcing her death, the comedian's daughter Melissa said her mother's "greatest joy was to make people laugh".

Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon.

– Melissa Rivers

Watch Correspondent Robert Moore's obituary for Joan Rivers in full below:

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