It was exactly the kind of star-studded send-off she wanted – and deserved.
As crowds of fans packed the sidewalks outside of Temple Emanu-El on New York’s Upper East Side Sunday morning, intimates, relatives and celebrity friends of Joan Rivers began to trickle in to the private funeral to pay their last respects to the comedian, who died Thursday at age 81.
Sarah Jessica Parker and husband Matthew Broderick were among the early arrivals, along with Howard Stern, Hoda Kotb, Andy Cohen, Whoopi Goldberg and Diane Sawyer, while Ozzy Osbourne and Kathy Griffin were already inside.
They were also joined by Rosie O’Donnell, Donald Trump, Joy Behar, Michael Kors, Alan Cumming, Barbara Walters, Hugh Jackman, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Kathie Lee Gifford and Rivers’s fellow E! Fashion Police hosts, Kelly Osbourne and Giuliana Rancic.
The service started with a performance by the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, followed by opening prayers delivered by Rabbi Joshua Davidson. Broadway’s Audra McDonald then gave an emotional performance of the melancholy Charlie Chaplin song, “Smile,” which left several guests in tears.
Howard Stern then gave not only a laudatory speech, but an emotional one that still managed to elicit laughter in the cavernous house of worship. He called Rivers “the best friend in the world … a big sister … a crazy aunt at a bar mitzvah.”
Stern noted, “She fought the stereotype that women couldn’t be funny,” and said, “She was responsible for putting the red carpet into prime time.”
Heartfelt reminiscences followed, from friend Margie Stern (whose daughter Ricki directed the Joan Rivers documentary, A Piece of Work), New York Post columnist and longtime pal Cindy Adams, and daughter Melissa Rivers.
Joan’s only child opened her speech by thanking the crowd for their outpouring of love and support this week. “We are humbled,” she said.
She then read a hilarious letter she’d written to her mother while she was still alive, causing the crowd to roar with laughter. She closed her speech with, “I am grateful for every day [Melissa’s son] Cooper and I have with you,” and “You are an inspiration.”
Toward the end of the service, which lasted barely more than an hour, Hugh Jackman delivered a rousing rendition of the Peter Allen song, “Quiet Please, There’s a Lady on Stage,” which contains the line, repeated several times, “Put your hands together.”
This the audience did, before it stood up and applauded the showman when he concluded.
Closing prayers came next; then the crowd slowly began to leave the temple to the sound of bagpipes played by the Pipes & Drums of the Emerald Society.
The swell of the pipes playing “New York, New York” could be heard all along 5th Avenue, while several streets in the East 60s were closed so the crowds of fans and guests could watch the pipers play.
A dramatically fitting send-off for such a beloved icon of the city.
• Reporting by SARA HAMMEL, JULIE JORDAN and STEPHEN M. SILVERMAN
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