Eulogy by Melissa Rivers for Joan Rivers
“My Mom was Fearless”
December 9, 2014 – Hollywood Reporter Women in Entertainment lunch, Los Angeles CA
Ok, now y’all are gonna make me cry. By the way, my son is now fourteen and doesn’t look up from his cell phone, so you have one the very few clips of him actually engaging in conversation.
First of all, I just want to thank everyone s much for inviting me here this morning and before we start, I’d like to point out that it is a little overwhelming being in a room with the most beautiful and successful women in Hollywood, but Angelina, I’m very comfortable and really very accessible … ok? It’s all good.
For me, the last three months and six days, not that I’m counting, have been different to say the least. Not just because this is the first time I am actually publicly speaking in tribute to my mother, but because every single person in the room could potentially hire me, and a few of you have actually fired me, but I don’t want you to feel badly because technically I now am an orphan, but… and my reel is under all the centerpieces, just so you know.
Lets actually be honest, no one is actually listening to anything any of us are going to be saying, because we’re very busy looking at each others bags and shoes and jewellery, and at least that is what I am doing because my mother always taught me that cleanliness is not next to godliness, shallowness is.
A few weeks ago, at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards, Amy Schumer spoke about my mother and she hit on something that actually applies to everyone in this room, and that was that my mother was brave. And I actually never thought of her like that, but when I look back on her life, I think that might actually be the best word that applies to her.
From the time she was a small small child, she took risks. At eight, she went to her parents’ living room and took a picture off of the piano and sent it to MGM. In her mind this little girl was clearly a star so she sent the photo – frame and all. My grandmother was a formidable woman and was not pleased, as it was a $50 frame.
At 10, my mother was sent home from – and I swear this is its name – from Camp Kinnikinnick for organising a bunk strike. See, she didn’t like the way the drama counsellor had cast Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They’d given her the part of Dopey, and she was pissed ‘cos she had no lines. She said she understood the character, and felt that Dopey’s aggressive silence could possibly be seen as an affront to Happy, Grumpy and Doc. My Grandparents again were called and told to come and get her. They apparently told my grandparents, and again, I quote, that they had “either raised the next Hitler or Eleanor Roosevelt”, they were not sure which, but “come and get her”.
I’m going to fast forward to when she was 78, she began hosting Fashion Police, possibly the funniest, edgiest and most controversial show on television. And last week, at 81 she nominated posthumously for a Grammy for her book Diary of a Mad Diva, which had this disclaimer;
This diary was written to the best of Joan Rivers’ memory. As such, some events might not be 100% or even 5% factually correct. Ms. Rivers is, after all, 235 years old and frequently mistakes her daughter Melissa for the actor Laurence Fishburne. Ms. Rivers wrote this diary as a comedic tome, not unlike Saving Private Ryan or The Bell Jar. While Ms Rivers really doesn’t like skinny models and actresses, she doesn’t actually believe they are all bulimics and carry buckets instead of purses. Similarly, she doesn’t really think that all Germans are anti-semitic Nazi sympathisers, and that all Mexican Americans tunnelled under across into the border. Or that all celebrities are drug addicts, shoplifters or closet cases, she also actually doesn’t believe that Noah built his ark with non-union labour. Ms Rivers does, however, believe that anyone who takes anything in this book seriously is an idiot. And she says that if anyone has a problem with that, they can feel free to call her lawyer Clarence Darrow.
My mother was fearless and I don’t mean she didn’t have any fears. I mean that even though she was only 5’2’’, she stood tall and walked through them. And that is what made her such a brilliant performer. She was willing to say what others were thinking and too frightened to admit. She made fun of herself, first and foremost, which gave her the right to joke about others. She never apologised for a joke, and no topic was taboo, and she was fine with that. Truth be told, my mother never thought of herself as a woman working in a man’s world, she just thought of herself as a comic, and had to be funnier than everyone else. And be it man, child, straight, gay, single, married, bi-curious – whatever the hell that means, she just wanted to do her job and that was to make people laugh.
For the last few months there has been tribute after tribute to my mother. I mean she has been called everything from a legend, to a trailblazer, to a bitch… um, that one kinda can be true, I was grounded a lot as a teenager. Anyway, it is hard for me to really think of her as any those things, because the bottom line is she was really just my mother. I guess it is true that most of the women who are here, and we all have powerful voices in our respective fields, I probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that brave little girl who sent her photo in. If my mother were here this morning, she’d not only be grateful and proud, she’d be beyond herself and she would be sitting at the table, beaming.
While very discreetly shoving croissants and silverware into her purse.
On behalf of my mother, thank you so, so much for this wonderful honour.