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Comedians, fans, royalty mourn death of Joan Rivers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Comedians, friends and fans on Friday paid tribute and mourned the loss of Joan Rivers, the sassy, sharp-tongued, brutally honest comedy legend who died a week after her heart stopped during an outpatient medical procedure.
/ Source: Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Comedians, friends and fans on Friday paid tribute and mourned the loss of Joan Rivers, the sassy, sharp-tongued, brutally honest comedy legend who died a week after her heart stopped during an outpatient medical procedure.

Rivers, 81, passed away peacefully on Thursday at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, surrounded by family and friends, her only child, Melissa Rivers, said in a statement.

Her funeral will be invitation-only on Sunday at Temple Emanu-El, a landmark synagogue on New York's Fifth Avenue.

The New York Medical Examiner's Office said the cause and manner of death are pending further studies.

As bouquets of flowers piled up at the entrance of her Upper East side home, comedians and others remembered the raspy-voiced, Brooklyn native who helped pave the road for women in comedy, in statements, tweets and Facebook posts.

Late-night talk show host David Letterman said the force of her comedy was overpowering.

“Here’s a woman, a real pioneer for other women looking for careers in stand-up comedy," he said. "And talk about guts – she would come out here and sit in this chair and say some things that were unbelievable, just where you would have to swallow pretty hard ... but it was hilarious."

Governor Andrew Cuomo described Rivers as an iconic New Yorker whose wit will always be remembered. "Joan made the nation laugh for more than fifty years, and for that we will always be grateful," he said in a statement.

No topic or person was off-limits for Rivers, who stopped breathing during a throat procedure at a Manhattan clinic last week and was rushed to Mount Sinai, where she was put on life support.

Telephone messages left with the Yorkville Endoscopy Center, where Rivers was treated, were unanswered.

The State Health Department has launched an investigation, which includes a review of documents, medical records and interviews with staff and physicians at the licensed center, which was inspected prior to its opening in 2013. To date, the department said there have been no complaints or violations regarding the facility.

"Investigations and reviews of facilities of events to ensure the health and safety of patients are not uncommon," said a spokesman for the department.

Rivers' death was the second of a famed U.S. comedian in less than a month, following the suicide of comedy genius and actor Robin Williams, 63, who hanged himself in California on Aug. 11.

Rivers' influence reached far beyond her New York roots - her blunt, unapologetic humor made millions of people around the globe laugh.

Britain's Prince Charles said he was "deeply saddened" by the death of Rivers, who attended his 2005 wedding to the Duchess of Cornwall.

"Joan Rivers was an extraordinary woman with an original and indefatigable spirit, an unstoppable sense of humor and an enormous zest for life," the heir to the throne said in a statement.

Rivers, who was born on June 8, 1933, was also famous for having numerous cosmetic procedures, which she joked about in her comedy routine.

"I’ve had so much plastic surgery, when I die they will donate my body to Tupperware," said Rivers, who once described herself as the "the plastic surgery poster girl."

Rivers - whose catchphrase was "Can we talk?" - joked about everything, including her looks, marriage and sex. After starting as a comedy writer and doing stand-up, she worked her way up to regular guest host for Johnny Carson on NBC's popular "The Tonight Show."

Carson and Rivers had a falling-out when she started her own late-night talk show in 1986 on the rival Fox network. Her show was canceled within a year due to low ratings. A few months later, her husband and manager, Edgar Rosenberg, committed suicide.

Most recently, Rivers was the host of cable television channel E!'s "Fashion Police," commenting on the unfortunate red carpet choices of Hollywood celebrities.

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Dan Grebler)