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Joan Rivers’ Passing Ends One of the Greatest Celebrity Feuds of All Time

Joan Rivers was Johnny Carson's close associate until their falling out in the 1980s.  (Photo: NBC)

Joan Rivers was Johnny Carson’s close associate until their falling out in the 1980s. She’s pictured her during her first appearance in 1965. (Photo: NBC)

Joan Rivers was a comedy pioneer breaking down barriers for women in show business, but her ambition, brashness and acerbic wit ignited one of the biggest celebrity feuds in Hollywood history. It only now ends with her death.

The feud, of course, involved the king of late night television Johnny Carson.

Like most bitter feuds, theirs started out with a strong friendship and ended in bitterness and recrimination. For Rivers, it was also career damaging and nearly career ending.

The story begins in the 1950s when Rivers, then in her 20s was desperate to become an actress. At the time, women didn’t do comedy, she wrote in a 2012 first-person column in the “Hollywood Reporter.

Joan Rivers, Johnny Carson in Video

It was the preserve of white men like Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Fred Allen and Red Skelton.

But a secretary in the office where she worked as a temp told her she was funny and could make $6 a night doing standup. So she began working the clubs in New York City’s East Village.

Her colleagues included other up-and-comers likeWoody Allen, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Rodney Dangerfield and Dick Cavett.

“But I never was one of the guys,” she wrote. “I was never asked to go hang out… So, even though I was with them, I wasn’t with them.”

Rivers, like the others, knew her ticket to success was getting invited on the “Tonight Show,” then hosted by Carson, who was the king of late night television.

“Everybody broke through ahead of me. I was the last one in the group to break through, or to be allowed to break through,” she recalled. “Looking back, I think it was because I was a woman.

“I was the very last one of the group they put on the Carson show,” she said.

She finally got a gig on the show, but not as a stand-up comic; she was hired as a gag writer and worked with Carson for 18 years.

“I adored Johnny. In the ’70s, I did opening monologues, I was hosting. The turning point was when I left the show [for her own show on rival upstart network Fox],” she said.

“The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” launched in 1986, making Rivers the first woman to host a talk show in television history. What’s more, she went head-to-head against Carson.

She only lasted a year on air. But her relationship with Carson was over.

In the he-said, she-said that followed, Carson claimed she never sought his blessing and was devious about plans for her show. Carson allegedly learned about the move from sources at Fox, just before Rivers broke the news.

“The first person I called was Johnny, and he hung up on me — and never, ever spoke to me again,” Rivers revealed after his death in 2005.

She never appeared on the show again for the remainder of Carson’s career. Both Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien, who succeeded Carson, upheld the ban.

Finally, Jimmy Fallon had her on the show in a cameo appearance on his first night as host in February. She later appeared as a guest.

“It’s about time!” she told Variety afterward. “I’ve been sitting in a taxi outside NBC with the meter running since 1987.”

With her death, the feud is finally over.

For more details, check out the Hollywood Reporter and be sure to follow IM on Twitter for the latest celebrity news.

Books by Joan Rivers: Click Titles to Purchase
Diary of a Mad Diva
Joan Rivers at her best… complaining.

I Hate Everyone…Starting with Me
Joan Rivers speaks out on everything she hates. Like people who think giving birth is a unique achievement.

Murder at the Academy Awards (R): A Red Carpet Murder Mystery
It’s Hollywood’s biggest night, and there’s no star better equipped than the tart-tongued Max Taylor to hold court on the glamorous Red Carpet.

Bouncing Back : I’ve Survived Everything…and I Mean Everything…and You Can Too!
With inspirational thoughts with humor, Joan describes how she overcame a series of personal tragedies and setbacks, including her husband’s suicide, financial disaster, and estrangement from her daughter.

Men Are Stupid . . . And They Like Big Boobs
Joan is uniquely qualified to talk about plastic surgery — because she’s one of the few celebrities unafraid to admit to the world what she’s “had done.”

Having a Baby Can Be a Scream
Rare Joan Rivers from early in her career. Expect to pay a premium for this book.

Don’t Count the Candles: Just Keep the Fire Lit!
Joan Rivers tells the whole truth about how women feel when it comes to getting older. Filled with the latest information on anti-aging breakthroughs.

From Mother to Daughter: Thoughts and Advice on Life, Love, and Marriage
Based on a letter to her daughter Melissa, Joan Rivers writes about a series of highly personal but universal truths involving relationships.

The Life and Hard Times of Heidi Abromowitz
An “unauthorized biography” of the comedienne’s free-living childhood friend, this intimate profile discloses Heidi’s deepest, darkest secrets.

Jewelry by Joan Rivers
Joan Rivers’ love and knowledge of jewelry is reflected in the pieces she designs for her own collection, hundreds of which are reproduced here in specially commissioned full-color photos.

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