Joan Rivers was a struggling 31-year-old comic back in 1965 when she finally got the break she'd unsuccessfully sought for a decade: a spot on the Tonight Show. As an article adapted in Vanity Fair from a new biography recounts, Rivers killed that night. Her standup set charmed the audience, and Johnny Carson summoned her to the couch, where their banter turned her into a star almost immediately. "And in a flash the endless struggle was finished," writes Leslie Bennetts. "A lifetime of battling against the people who told her no, who said she couldn’t do it, who thought she wasn’t good enough or a has-been—all the rejections and hardships had been magically wiped away." As Rivers herself put it: "Ten minutes on television, and it was all over."
Her career took off, and Rivers became a national fixture through the 1960s and into the 1980s with her then-groundbreaking material about sex and marriage. Then came catastrophe: Rivers landed her own talk show on Fox, only to be fired in 1987. Her husband and manager, Edgar, then killed himself, and Rivers soon found herself with a gun on her lap contemplating her own suicide. That's when her Yorkshire terrier jumped onto her lap and actually sat on the weapon. Rivers suddenly realized nobody would want to take care of her spoiled, bratty dog, and scrapped the suicide. What followed was another career rebirth in which she would become "a cultural icon, a vastly influential trailblazer, and a business powerhouse" before her death in 2014. Click for the full story. (Read more Longform stories.)