In 2017, the comedian posed with a Halloween mask of President Trump with ketchup poured on it to resemble blood

By Kate Coyne
August 02, 2019 09:30 AM

Kathy Griffin never expected the 2017 photo of her holding a bloody Donald Trump mask to go viral — and then nearly end her career.

“I was like, ‘This will maybe show up on some blog,’ ” the comedian, 58, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.

The image ended up costing Griffin endorsement deals, a comedy tour and her longtime gig as the co-host of CNN’s New Year’s Eve coverage with Anderson Cooper. She also received death threats from Trump supporters, as did her then 97-year-old mom Maggie and her sister Joyce, who was in hospice care for end-stage cancer.

Kathy Griffin with her mother Maggie (center) and sister Joyce in 2011.
Courtesy Kathy Griffin

“My mom had an old-timey answering machine — not even voice mail — and people would leave the most vitriolic hate,” Griffin says of the recordings she’d race to stop her mother from hearing.

Joyce received notes “telling her to go to hell” up until the day she died later that year, and Maggie now has dementia.

RELATED VIDEO: Where Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper’s Relationship Stands Today: ‘I’m Done Chasing People’

Despite hard times at home and being the subject of an FBI investigation (which was later dropped having found Griffin engaged in no wrongdoing), the two-time Emmy winner got back to work.

  • For more from Kathy Griffin, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now

Now, she’s detailing how the controversial image changed her life in a new concert documentary, Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story.

“Nothing makes me feel better, and hopefully it makes other people feel better,” Griffin says of recovering from the scandal. “I just had this gut feeling: It’s back to business. It’s back to stand-up, no matter what.”

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