Pop Culture

Melissa Rivers reflects on mom Joan Rivers' final hours, 'Fashion Police' controversy

Melissa Rivers sat down in an exclusive TODAY interview, her first on television since the September 2014 death of her inimitable mother, comedian Joan Rivers.

Melissa opened up to Matt Lauer Monday about the last conversation she had with her mother, their creative collaborations and the recent controversies that have plagued E!'s "Fashion Police."

Melissa, 47, said the pair had "a very normal conversation" the night before her mother underwent a minor throat procedure, during which she stopped breathing.

"All she said was, 'Ugh, I hate having to do this. Getting old sucks," Melissa recalled.

She read a poignant passage from her new memoir, "The Book of Joan," about their final night together in the hospital.

"I slept on the cot next to my mother's bed that night with some of the lights still on and the TV blasting, just the way she liked it," she said. "In the morning, when it was time to remove the ventilator, she was surrounded by those who loved her most and whom she loved most. I lay in the bed and held her for a while. And after a few hours, she was finally gone. I didn't have to tell her I loved her. She knew. She didn't have to tell me she loved me. I knew."

MORE: Melissa Rivers says her mother's death 'was 100 percent preventable'

Dan Hallman / AP
This Feb. 21, 2013 photo shows comedian Joan Rivers, left, and her daughter Melissa Rivers in New York. Joan leads a panel on "Fashion Police," with Giuliana Rancic, Kelly Osbourne and stylist George Kotsiopoulos as they critique celebrity style choices. Melissa is a co-executive producer and occasional panelist as well. (Photo by Dan Hallman/Invision/AP)

On working together:

The mother-daughter duo were longtime creative partners, appearing together on the red carpet and on various reality shows, such as "Celebrity Apprentice" and "Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?"

Melissa said their working relationship was "pretty amazing."

"It doesn't mean that we didn't have creative differences," she added. "Oh, there were some huge fights, but the amazing thing was was there was this chemistry. And we were a team. I was the straight man. She was the funny one. I would set it up. She would hit it out of the park. If you come across a partnership like that once in your life, as a performer, you're lucky."

On Joan's plastic surgery

Melissa said her mom's well-chronicled fondness for plastic surgery affected her as a young girl.

"A lot of things that she said were destructive," she said. "[But] I'm not a serial killer. I seem to be contributing, somewhat, to society. And I hold down a job. So how destructive could those comments have been?"

On the "Fashion Police" controversy

And finally, Melissa weighed in on Joan's long-running E! series "Fashion Police," which went on hiatus in March following the departures of co-hosts Kelly Osbourne and Kathy Griffin.

"The only way I can really get my head around it is the matriarch of the family died," Melissa explained. "And the family fell apart. And the sisters started fighting. And everybody mourns and grieves differently. And then someone tried to marry into the family. And we know how that went. That's the only way I can sort of explain what happened."

"I think the show's funny," she said in defense of the show. "And people say it's mean-spirited. It wasn't, because it was a celebration. My mother loved fashion. And she loved celebrity. And she loved being famous. And she loved that these women were getting dressed up."

Matt Lauer and Melissa Rivers

She continued, "And even though we're talking about it and making jokes, it came from a place of excitement, which made it okay. In the second incarnation, I don't think we ever achieved that warmth, that excitement, that love that came through the screen."