In the end, Joan Rivers didn't get the last word. And that's a shame.
One can only imagine what the final words would have been from the 81-year-old comic legend if she knew she were dying. Instead, Rivers, who made a groundbreaking career out of brazenly mocking subjects most of us were afraid to talk about, died hooked up to machines Thursday at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, in a medically-induced coma, one week after suffering a cardiac arrest while undergoing a routine medical procedure on her vocal chords.
One of the world's great talkers -- her catchphrase was "Can we talk?" -- didn't get a chance for one last, knock-'em-dead line.
Joan Rivers was hilarious, of course. She was also brash, obnoxious and sometimes downright nasty. She was also honest and fearless.
And it was those attributes, perhaps, that most made her a legend.
Rivers used words as her strength, her weapons. Words were how she broke ground as one of the first female stand-up comedians in what was a man's game in the 1960s. She didn't just tiptoe into the genre. She howled at the closed door until it fell off its hinges.
The male-dominated showbiz industry found her threatening. Middle America probably did as well. She was something new: A woman who wasn't just funny, but bold and unpredictable because nothing seemed to frighten her. She told jokes other comedians were afraid to touch and, by plunging into topics like homosexuality and abortion during the 1960s, helped pull taboo subjects into the national discourse.
Of course, Rivers didn't necessarily want to be a pioneer, and she didn't endear herself to the feminist movement. To her, women were comedic targets as much as men ... along with religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, size, and, well, everything.
She even exceeded the great Don Rickles in leaving no comedic stone unturned. She joked about her husband's suicide. She joked about her multitude of plastic surgeries. She joked about Nazis and women's weight problems. Watching Rivers was like watching an intense, but much funnier, horror movie where you didn't know what would happen next. It could be good, it could be bad, it could make you wince. But you weren't about to leave your seat.
Even in her 80s, after more than five decades in show business, her humor ran at light speed. She worked feverishly during the last decade of her life. The night before her death, she was on a stage in New York City, joking about her death.
And she could still shock. Earlier this year, she talked about the three women who had been held captive and abused for a decade in a Cleveland basement, comparing it to her own living quarters in her daughter Melissa's guest room.
"I'm still in the same stupid little room," she said. "I mean, those women in the basement in Cleveland had more space."
Lawyers for the women demanded an apology. She refused.
Rivers wasn't at war with everyone. She was very close with her daughter, producer and sometime co-star Melissa Rivers, and the bond had reportedly grown tighter in recent years. She had also reportedly grown close to her teenage grandson Cooper Endicott.
But much of the rest of the world was fair game for Joan Rivers.
Talking about German-born model Heidi Klum's dress at Elton John's Academy Awards party, Rivers, a Jew whose late husband's family died in the Holocaust, said, "The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens."
When Jennifer Lawrence condemned Rivers' "Fashion Police" show for body-shaming, Rivers responded by saying, "I love that she's telling everyone how wrong it is to worry about retouching and body image, and meanwhile, she has been touched up more than a choir boy at the Vatican."
She was born with the name Joan Alexandra Molinsky in Brooklyn, New York, on June 8, 1933 -- although some sources list the year as late as 1937 -- to Russian Jewish immigrants, and was driven by ambition.
"I could not endure the reality that I might end up Joan Molinsky, an unattractive, nondescript little Jewish girl, run-of-the-mill, who might just as well have stayed in Brooklyn and married a druggist and had a normal life," she said in her 1986 autobiography, "Enter Talking."
"I had come from normal life, from real life, and nobody there had been happy."
She graduated from Barnard College in 1954 with a major in English literature, though she also took acting classes, according to the Los Angeles Times, which also notes her 1957 marriage to Jimmy Sanger, which lasted six months. Her parents were less than thrilled when she took her stage name and started auditioning for plays and doing standup in Greenwich Village.
Rivers was thrown into national prominence when, after repeated attempts, she finally got booked on "The Tonight Show" in 1965. That started a long relationship with Johnny Carson, which included writing for him and filling in when he took vacation. Carson named her his "permanent guest host" in 1983, until Rivers got her own show on Fox in 1986. It made her the first female host of a late night talk show but also destroyed her relationship with Carson. After a year, her show was canceled, and her husband, manager and executive producer Edgar Rosenblum, committed suicide.
Humor was her way of surviving the pain. She later said, "I was the one who really caused Edgar's suicide. Because, while we were making love, I took the bag off my head." She was similarly self-deprecating about her famous love of cosmetic surgery, noting, "I've had so much plastic surgery, when I die they'll donate my body to Tupperware."
It's safe to say there might be no Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Lately or Tina Fey, to name just a few, today had Rivers not blasted down that door 50 years ago, not just as a female comedian but as a female comedian who could be just as rough as the men.
Even that notion was something for her to take shots at.
"They all come up to me and say, 'Without you, I couldn't be here, the barriers you broke down,'" she once said, according to Time magazine. "I say, 'Get the (expletive) away from me. I still could take every one of you with one hand behind my back. ... Talk like that at my funeral, but not till then.'"
And they will.