Joan and Melissa Rivers Forged a Lasting Mother-Daughter Bond
The late comedian and her daughter had their ups and downs, but were close to the end
Last week when Joan Rivers stopped breathing during a surgical procedure, it was daughter, Melissa, who immediately hopped a plane from L.A. to New York and rushed to her mother’s bedside. And that’s where she remained until the end.
“It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers,” Melissa wrote in a statement on Thursday, just over an hour after saying goodbye to the 81-year-old comedy legend. “My mother’s greatest joy in life was to make people laugh … I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon.”
Between their famous tag-team fashion repartee on Fashion Police and their WEtv show Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?, Rivers and her only child seemed inseparable. But they were a team long before they started sharing the screen.
Born to Rivers and her producer husband, Edgar Rosenberg, in 1968, “I was always taken everywhere,” Melissa told CNN in 2012. “I wasn’t a kid who was handed off to nannies. I grew up in the business.”
And like many children in the entertainment industry, life wasn’t always a picnic. “I grew up in a land of beautiful, perfect people,” she told PEOPLE in 2009. “I have a lot of self-image issues.”
Her mother, known for proudly using plastic surgery to address her own physical insecurities, once forced Melissa to follow in her footsteps. “I made her get a nose job, and she’s still unhappy with it,” Rivers admitted to PEOPLE in 2009. “She was 18, 19. She got my nose and it needed to be thinned. She didn’t want to do it. She still yells at me about it.”
Around the same time, a deeper, darker rift formed in their relationship. In 1987, Rivers’s husband and Melissa’s dad, Rosenberg, lost his battle with depression and committed suicide. “Initially it completely separated us and we didn’t talk for about a year,” Melissa has said of the difficult time. “I blamed my mom.”
But the two soon found their way back to one another, forging a bond and a brand together that persists to this day. “We both wanted to do Joan & Melissa,” Rivers recently told Parade. “We knew [the show] would keep the family together. Because of this, I’m able to spend four days a week with Melissa and [her son], Cooper. I’m no longer a rarity in my grandson’s eyes.”
When it came to discussing her daughter, Rivers wasn’t an acerbic comic, she was just a proud mom. “Loyal and honorable and a terrific mother,” Rivers once lauded Melissa. “I don’t know where I got her. Three strikes against her to be my daughter.”
And when Rivers had a cancer scare after a bout with laryngitis last year, Melissa opened up about their strong relationship and her fears about losing her. “She’s my mom, my partner, my best friend,” Melissa wrote on their show’s blog. “I can’t even think about life without her.”