Legendary comedian Joan Rivers died Thursday at age 81, according to a statement released by her daughter Melissa. In addition to her legacy as an Emmy-award winning talk show host, Tony nominated actress, author, and jewelry designer, Rivers was one of Hollywood’s most vocal supporters of LGBT equality.
In one of her earliest roles, Rivers appeared opposite Barbra Streisand in a play in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. The two played a same-sex couple and kissed. “This was before she was singing, before anything. I knew she was talented, but you never know what someone will be. She was a fabulous kisser, that’s what I knew,” Rivers recalled in 2010.
She talked a great deal about gay culture on her TV shows. When the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning came out, Rivers had the cast and director on The Joan Rivers Show.
Rivers was an enthusiastic backer of marriage equality. In 2012, prior to President Obama’s historic announcement she criticized him and other politicians for cowardice on the issue. “It is outrageous. The politicians are all such ass-kissers. No one is saying the truth. They are saying what they think people want to hear,” she observed.
For years, Rivers served on the board of God’s Love We Deliver, a New York-based charity that provides meals to AIDS patients and others who are too sick to shop or cook for themselves. Her victory on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the organization.
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Rivers prided herself on her relationship with the LGBT community. “My gay fans have been wonderful from day one,” she told The Advocate in May. “I remember when I was working at the Duplex in Greenwich Village in New York at the beginning of my career and the only ones who would laugh at my jokes were the gay guys. I think if I had started out in straight clubs and bars I never would’ve gotten anywhere.” “Even today,” she added, “when I’m on tour I always know if I get eight gay men in the front row it’s going to be a great show. Maybe it’s just me and I know they’re going to laugh at what I’d laugh at, but when my gays are in the audience it’s always a good time.” She also noted that, “A lot of drag queens have impersonated me over the years and I think it’s fabulous.” At times raised eyebrows among her gay fans with her jokes — such as her claim in July that President Obama is gay and the first lady transgender.
In the same Advocate interview, Rivers urged LGBT Hollywood colleagues to come out of the closet: “I get very angry at some of the women — a lot of talk show hosts — who are gay and aren’t out when they have no reason to not say they’re gay.”