Joan Rivers, the acid- tongued American comedienne who was the first woman to break into the male-dominated world of late-night comedy, died last night after a week in a coma.
The 81-year-old was put into a medically induced coma last Thursday after she suffered a heart attack during a routine throat operation. She was taken to hospital in New York and though her condition at times appeared to be improving she never regained consciousness.
Her daughter, Melissa Rivers, announced her death, saying: "My mother's greatest joy in life was to make people laugh. Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon."
She added: "She passed peacefully at 1.17pm surrounded by family and close friends. My son and I would like to thank the doctors, nurses, and staff of Mount Sinai Hospital for the amazing care they provided for my mother.
"Cooper and I have found ourselves humbled by the outpouring of love, support, and prayers we have received from around the world. They have been heard and appreciated."
Rivers always had a distinctive raspy voice but told friends in recent months that her throat was bothering her and that she was going in for a simple operation. Health authorities in New York are investigating the circumstances surrounding her heart attack.
Rivers never mellowed over the course of a five-decade career, aiming caustic jokes at people of all races and genders.
Celebrities on both sides of the Atlantic took to Twitter to pay tribute to her.
"There will never be another Joan Rivers," said Larry King.
Ricky Gervais said: "RIP the mighty Joan Rivers. Funny and fearless. Truly one of a kind."
"We lost a great one in Joan Rivers," said Jimmy Kimmel, the late-night talk-show host. "There are no words," said Whoopi Goldberg, one of the women who followed her into comedy. "Bon Voyage Joan."
Rivers's early career began both writing jokes for 'Candid Camera', as well as an on-screen role luring unsuspecting participants into foolish situations.
She could also be found on stage in New York's comedy clubs in the 1950s.
However, her big break came in 1965 when Rivers appeared on 'The Tonight Show' hosted by Johnny Carson becoming a near instant hit, and quickly snaring her own syndicated daytime television talk-show.
By the mid-1980s, Rivers was a designated stand-in for Carson, and was frequently spoken of as a successor to the late-night host, but the two fell out when Rivers defected to Fox Television to host a rival show - an act for which Carson never forgave her. The two never spoke again.
Rivers later became notorious for her unapologetic embrace of cosmetic surgery, batting away critics and boasting openly about the number of procedures she had undergone. (© Daily Telegraph, London)