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12 Classic Joan Rivers TV Appearances

From ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ to ‘The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon,’ here are a dozen unforgettable small-screen Joan moments

Joan Rivers on 'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon'

Joan Rivers

Theo Wargo/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Joan Rivers made her television debut more than 50 years ago – on The Tonight Show in the early 1960s – and remained a small-screen mainstay right up until her death on September 4th at age 81. Over the course of her career she experienced highs, lows (including being blacklisted by Johnny Carson) and numerous resurrections – every time life knocked her down, she’d get right back up, dust herself off and crack a dirty joke.

A master of both self-deprecation and reinvention, Rivers seemingly became more popular the older she got, and from winning Celebrity Apprentice to bad-mouthing stars on Fashion Police to hooking up with Louis C.K., the comedian never lost her edge.

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‘The Late Show, Starring Joan Rivers’ (1986)

In 1986, Rivers launched a late-night talk show that was rife with controversy – and tragedy – and which would change the trajectory of her career. The Late Show With Joan Rivers only aired for two seasons, but it caused an irreparable rift between her and Carson when she became his rival – and he subsequently banned her from his show. Supposedly she and Carson never spoke again. (He died in 2005, but the ban would span almost 30 years because both Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien upheld it.) Rivers also blamed the show for the death of producer-husband Edgar Rosenberg, who she claimed committed suicide in 1987 over the "embarrassment" of the pair being fired from the show. The Late Show would go on without them, featuring Arsenio Hall and, later, Ross Shafer. One of the show's highlights, though, included Rivers going tête-à-tête with fellow comic icon Lucille Ball.

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‘The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson’ (1982)

By the early 1980s, Rivers was a regular guest host of The Tonight Show, which was officially helmed by Carson from 1962 to 1992. During this time, she took her biting wit to new and controversial heights, becoming an increasingly polarizing figure and cementing her "Can we talk?" catchphrase. She brought a very different vibe than Carson, by talking about her friend Heidi Abromowitz – a "tramp" who was the "poster girl for herpes" – and her post-menopausal sex life: "I have no bazooms. You know what it's like to stand in front of your husband naked and say, 'What does this remind you of?' And he says, 'Pancakes for breakfast.'"

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‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ (1967)

After being taken under Carson's wing, Rivers quickly made a name for herself on the late-night talk show circuit with her acerbic humor – often at the expense of herself (and, later, others). In 1967, she stormed the stage of the iconic Ed Sullivan Show with sharp material about what it was like to be a single, unmarried woman at the time: "A girl has to be pretty, intelligent and a good sport: 'Howard Johnson's again, hooray, hooray!'"

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‘The Sammy Davis Show’ (1966)

Joan Rivers got her start doing standup in New York comedy clubs, but her big break came on The Tonight Show, and she often referred to long-time host Johnny Carson as her mentor. Indeed, he sang her praises when he hosted the short-lived Sammy Davis Jr. Show in 1966 before they bantered like old friends about marriage, house parties and Jell-O. It's one of the very first videos of the two riffing off each other.