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Private funeral for Joan Rivers, acerbic comedy pioneer

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tributes poured in on Friday as comedians and friends mourned the loss of Joan Rivers, the sassy, sharp-tongued comedy legend who jokingly wrote about wanting an elaborate funeral and will be laid to rest in a private service on Sunday.
/ Source: Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tributes poured in on Friday as comedians and friends mourned the loss of Joan Rivers, the sassy, sharp-tongued comedy legend who jokingly wrote about wanting an elaborate funeral and will be laid to rest in a private service on Sunday.

But the cause of the death of the pioneering comedian, who passed away peacefully in a hospital on Thursday, a week after an outpatient procedure, was unclear.

After an initial examination, the New York City Medical Examiner's Office said further tests were needed.

Rivers, 81, will have an invitation-only funeral at Temple Emanu-El, a landmark synagogue on New York's Fifth Avenue where she was a member of the congregation.

“We mourn with her family, friends and all those millions to whom she brought laughter and joy,” Senior Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson, who will conduct the service, said in a statement.

No details of the service were released, but in her 2012 book "I Hate Everyone ...Starting With Me," Rivers, ever the comedy star, wrote about wanting her funeral to be a big showbiz affair, complete with actress Meryl Streep crying in different accents.

"I want paparazzi and I want publicists making a scene! I want it to be Hollywood all the way."

Friends of the Brooklyn-born comedian, who helped pave the road for women in comedy, remembered her 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 and was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital, 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 clinic, which was inspected before it opened in 2013. There have been no complaints or violations involving the center, the department said.

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.

Rivers 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?" - started 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 Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Grebler)