A look at the comedy legend’s compassion, support for people living with AIDS

By David-Elijah Nahmod – Sept. 19, 2014

When Joan Rivers passed away, Sept. 4, her status as a comedy legend was intact, as was her work ethic.

Over the course of her career – that began in New York comedy clubs more than a half century ago – Rivers walked to the beat of her own drum. A strong woman, who often told ribald and deliberately offensive jokes, which were, and are, still considered inappropriate for "ladies."

Rivers didn't care. And, as a result, her profanity-laced stand-up shows were usually sold out.

Along the way Rivers reinvented herself several times over. She was an actress, an author of best selling books, a talk show host, a reality TV star, a film director.

But through it all, Rivers was rarely acknowledged for what was perhaps her greatest role: humanitarian. As busy as her hectic schedule could be, Rivers made time for causes that were near and dear to her heart, including people living with AIDS.

Remembered by many as the first celebrity to appear at an AIDS fundraiser (three decades ago no less), Rivers’ support for people living with AIDS was unparalleled

"Elizabeth Taylor followed Joan Rivers," recalled Paul Klees of the San Francisco-based AIDS Housing Alliance. "She used the stage as her bully pulpit to bring awareness, compassion and a reality check to her audiences. She won NBC's Celebrity Apprentice and donated her winnings to God's Love We Deliver. She was an early supporter and a board member until her death."

For many years Rivers sat on the board – and personally delivered meals – for God’s Love We Deliver, a New York-based food and nutrition organization that cooks and delivers nutritious meals for people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life altering illnesses.

"She served on our Board for 29 years, and delivered meals for 25 years," said Karen Pearl, God's Love We Deliver president and CEO, in a phone interview from New York. "She came to a lot of our special events, visited clients, worked in our kitchen and went on deliveries."

According to Pearl, every Thanksgiving Rivers could be counted upon to deliver meals to homebound people living with AIDS – in some cases accompanied by her daughter, Melissa, her grandson, Cooper.

"She was warm and personable," Pearl said. "She was giving and caring to our clients and our staff. She cared a lot about what she believed in and God's Love was one of the things she cared about."

Rivers support for the HIV/AIDS afflicted went far beyond New York City.

"Joan Rivers left her own indelible mark on Phoenix," said Kirk Baxter, founder of the Southwest Center For HIV/AIDS. "Honorable Phil Gordon, [former] Mayor for the City of Phoenix, shared our profound excitement and gratitude, recognizing that having Joan Rivers lend her support to Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS was indeed a very big deal.”

And, in 2009, former City of Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon declared June 28 "Joan Rivers Day."

“Joan Rivers readily dedicated her distinct brand of comedy and fame to our cause, nationwide,” Baxter said. “We were all graced by Ms. Rivers' presence. Her compassion, her gifts to the people we serve and her memory will live forever in our hearts."


Keep reading Show less
Photo courtesy of The Dinah

The Dinah

Keep reading Show less
Photo courtesy of Michael Feinstein.

Michael Feinstein

Keep reading Show less
Gilles Toucas

Michael Feinstein will commemorate Judy Garland’s life on March 20 at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

Keep reading Show less