NEW YORK — Howard Stern delivered the eulogy, Broadway singer-actress Audra McDonald sang “Smile” and bagpipers played “New York, New York” at Joan Rivers’ funeral Sunday, a star-studded send-off that — like the late comedian herself — brought together the worlds of Hollywood, theater, fashion and media.
At a funeral befitting a superstar, the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus sang Broadway hits including “Hey Big Spender” before six-time Tony Award-winner McDonald sang her tribute to Rivers, a champion of theater for decades.
Tributes and reminiscences were delivered by TV anchor Deborah Norville, close friend Margie Stern, columnist Cindy Adams and Rivers’ daughter, Melissa, who spoke about how she respected her mother, who died Thursday at 81, and appreciated everyone’s support.
Hugh Jackman sang “Quiet Please, There’s a Lady On Stage” at the end of the memorial, and bagpipers from the New York City Police Department played on the streets as mourners filed out of Temple Emanu-El, many dabbing their eyes.
“She would love this. We’ve all said this so many times: The one person who would really think this is the greatest thing ever is the lady who it’s all about, and she’s not here,” said Norville afterward, amid the throngs of well-wishers and sound of bagpipes.
A legion of notables turned out to remember Rivers: comedians Kathy Griffin, Rosie O’Donnell and Whoopi Goldberg; E! network “Fashion Police” colleague and friend Kelly Osbourne; Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick; and celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz.
Theater stars Bernadette Peters, Alan Cumming and Tommy Tune were there. Record producer Clive Davis was, too. Fashion designers Carolina Herrera, Dennis Basso and Michael Kors were in attendance. Stars from TV such as Barbara Walters, Geraldo Rivera, Diane Sawyer, Kathie Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb and Andy Cohen. Late night band leader Paul Shaffer. And moguls Barry Diller, Donald Trump and Steve Forbes.
“It was uplifting. We were celebrating her life,” Basso said.
Mourners had lined up outside the Fifth Avenue synagogue and waited for their names to be checked against a list before entering. A crowd of media stood watch behind barriers, and fans from as far away as Australia and England lined the streets.
Actress Susan Claassen, who met Rivers in London in 2008 when both had one-woman shows, came from Tucson, Arizona, to honor her friend. “I always like to say that in a world of knockoffs, Joan was an original,” she said.
The comedian detailed in her 2012 book “I Hate Everyone … Starting With Me” that she hoped for “a huge showbiz affair with lights, cameras, action” and “Hollywood all the way.” Instead of a rabbi talking, Rivers asked for “Meryl Streep crying, in five different accents” and “a wind machine so that even in the casket my hair is blowing just like Beyonce’s.” Indeed, her wishes were so important they were printed in the funeral program.
The funeral program also included a page with three classic Rivers’ lines printed out: “Can we talk?” ”Who are you wearing?” and “Because I’m a funny person.”
Rivers was a trailblazer for all comics, but especially for women. The raspy-voiced blonde with the brash New York accent was a TV talk show host, stage, film and TV actress, fashion critic, and she sold a line of jewelry.
But Rivers also devoted much of her time to philanthropy, including supporting and promoting HIV/AIDS activism. In May 1985, she appeared along with Nichols and May at a Comic Relief benefit for the new AIDS Medical Foundation in New York City, where tickets at the Shubert Theatre sold for as much as $500.
She supported the Elton John AIDS Foundation and God’s Love We Deliver, which delivers meals to HIV/AIDS patients in New York City. In 2008, she was commended by the City of San Diego for her philanthropic work regarding HIV/AIDS, where the HIV/AIDs community called her their “Joan of Arc.”
Additionally, she served as an Honorary Director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She also supported Guide Dogs for the Blind, a non-profit organization which provides guide dogs to blind people. She donated to Jewish charities, animal welfare efforts, and suicide prevention causes.
Among the other non-profit organizations she helped were Rosie’s Theater Kids, Habitat for Humanity and the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group.
The cause of Rivers’ death is being investigated. She was hospitalized on Aug. 28 after she went into cardiac arrest during a routine procedure at a doctor’s office. The New York state health department is investigating the circumstances, and the New York City medical examiner said tests to determine the cause of death were inconclusive.
Her publicist said that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to God’s Love, We Deliver; Guide Dogs for the Blind; or Our House.
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