Gay icon Joan Rivers dies

Comedian and gay icon Joan Rivers has died at the age of 81.

She was pronounced dead on Thursday at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

She had been there since last week following a cardiac arrest during surgery to her vocal chords.

"It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers," her daughter Melissa said in a statement. "She passed peacefully at 1:17 p.m. 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."

Joan Rivers was born Joan Molinsky in Brooklyn in 1933. She started as a stand up comic and actress in Greenwich Village — once playing the lesbian lover of a young Barbra Streisand — (who apparently was a "great kisser") before finding fame on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.

She would later go on to present her own talk show as well as continuing to tour with her one-woman show and designing her own brand of jewellery for the QVC shopping channel.

She was a particular favourite of gay men who admired her whip-lash, no-holds-barred sarcastic humour, usually at the expense of other celebrities but also at her herself, in particular her plastic surgery.

In a recent interview she told The Advocate that her gay fans had been wonderful and supportive throughout her career.

"I remember when I was working at the Duplex in Greenwich Village in New York at the beginning of my career and the only ones who would laugh at my jokes were the gay guys," she said. "I think if I had started out in straight clubs and bars I never would've gotten anywhere.

"Even today when I'm on tour I always know if I get eight gay men in the front row it's going to be a great show. Maybe it's just me and I know they're going to laugh at what I'd laugh at, but when my gays are in the audience it's always a good time."

Rivers was a fierce supporter of gay rights and equal marriage, playing at numerous fundraisers, and in the 1980s was one of the first celebrities to lead the fight against Aids.

Joan Rivers was due to go on tour in the UK later this year in a show called Quick — Before They Close The Lid — This Could Be IT!

Sadly it was.