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Joan Rivers, the pioneering queen of comedy, who overcame tragedy and disappointment to transform herself in late life into a comic scourge of the red carpet, has died, according to her daughter, Melissa Rivers. She was 81.

She died today at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, where she was rushed after she stopped breathing during surgery on her vocal cords at an endoscopy clinic on Aug.28.

"It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers," Melissa Rivers said in a statement today. "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.

"Cooper and I have found ourselves humbled by the outpouring of love, support, and prayers we have received from around the world. They have been heard and appreciated. My mother's greatest joy in life was to make people laugh. Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon."

Joan Rivers had been unconscious and on life support, in critical but stable condition, for a week. She was stable enough to be moved out of intensive care into a private room yesterday.

Whether ripping on celebrities on 'Fashion Police' or cracking jokes on 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' Joan Rivers always spoke her mind and made us laugh. She died at the age of 81. VPC

Her daughter and sometime sidekick, who rushed from Los Angeles to be with her mother, issued several statements while she was in the hospital, thanking friends, fans and fellow celebrities for an outpouring of good wishes and tweets. She said Joan would have been touched and she asked for prayers.

Joan's popular E! Network show, Fashion Police, announced it would be on hiatus while she was ill, even during Fashion Week, just opening.

"E! and NBCUniversal send our deepest condolences to Melissa, Cooper and her entire extended family on this incredibly sad day," the network said in a statement.

"For decades Joan has made people laugh, shattered glass ceilings and revolutionized comedy. She was unapologetic and fiercely dedicated to entertaining all of us and has left an indelible mark on the people that worked with her and on her legions of fans. She's been a much beloved member of the E! family for over 20 years and the world is less funny without her in it. Today our hearts are heavy knowing Joan will not be bounding through the doors."

The mourners today included Nancy Reagan, widow of President Reagan and a gold-card member of old Hollywood herself.

"Joan Rivers was not only a dear friend, but one of the kindest and funniest people I ever knew," she said in a statement. "I doubt there's anyone who hasn't laughed at her or with her until they cried. Today our tears are those of sadness. I know I join millions in saying, 'Thanks for the good times, Joan, we will truly miss you.' "

Kelly Osbourne, her partner in red carpet commentary, said on her Facebook page that she was "heartbroken by the loss of my beloved Joan. Not only was she my boss, she was and will always be my teacher, therapist, closest friend, inspiration and the only grandmother I ever knew. She was family and I will never forget her."

Rivers is survived by her daughter, 46, her partner in withering red-carpet fashion interviews and reviews, her producer on Joan's weekly YouTube series In Bed With Joan, and mother of Joan's grandson, Cooper Endicott, 13.

Rivers, who was actively flogging her latest humor book this year, was making headlines up to the last minute, raising eyebrows, as she had so many times in the past, with jokes and remarks viewed as insensitive, unfunny or politically incorrect:

She joked about the Holocaust and the Haiti earthquake, recently suggested Michelle Obama is "transgender" and stormed out of a CNN interview in a rage after seeming to misunderstand the questions.

Mostly, she didn't apologize, or only grudgingly. Rivers, who had more than 2 million Twitter followers, didn't believe she went too far. "Life is tough. Life is tough. I just think, 'Make them laugh,' " she told USA TODAY in a recent interview.

Before Kathy Griffin ("A legend, a friend, a mentor, an icon, and wildly funny. One of a kind," she tweeted today) and Sarah Silverman ("My heart is torn in half, she wasn't done," she tweeted today), before Oprah and Chelsea Handler, before a zillion women comics, there was Rivers, the walking, talking, wise-cracking embodiment of just how much pop culture had changed in 50 years.

"Can we talk?" became her signature opener for her jokes and her act. Later, it was "Who are you wearing?"

She started out in an era when not only could she not say the word abortion on TV, she could not even acknowledge that she was seven months pregnant while appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. A lone woman in a man's world, Rivers made it a point to break rules.

Rivers, born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in Brooklyn in 1933, was one of the first and one of the few — women comics who made Americans laugh on stage, in comedy clubs, on TV variety and talk shows — starting in the late 1950s.

She turned her own insecurities, about her looks and abilities, into comic fodder, and despite ups and downs in her career, she never stopped working. A dozen humor books carry her name (her latest, Diary of a Mad Diva, came out this year), her Fashion Police show, was top-rated, she booked more than 100 comedy-club appearances a year, and she had steady work in roles in numerous films and movies over the decades.

When the documentary film about her, Joan Rivers — A Piece of Work, came out in 2010, it showed Rivers as a woman terrified of a blank datebook. She told USA TODAY that the queen of comedy had no intention of abdicating. She was 77 at the time, and speaking from the QVC greenroom where she was waiting to go on for one of her regular appearances selling her costume jewelry line.

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To some people she was a joke — all that plastic surgery, all those red-carpet inanities — but she lived off that joke very nicely, thank you. Moreover, she helped make talking about plastic surgery acceptable and routine, and gave the red carpet a pop-culture significance it never had before.

"I love what I do, why should I rest?" she said in 2010. "How lucky am I, doing what I want to do? That's heaven."

For decades the most important man in Rivers' life, after husband Edgar Rosenberg, was the late, great Johnny Carson, who helped make her a comedy star at a time when most Americans had trouble thinking of women as gagsters. Rosenberg committed suicide in 1987 after 22 years of marriage, but her falling out with Carson, and all that ensued, was almost as painful.

Rivers made her first appearance on The Tonight Show with Carson 49 years ago, but she was on the show even before that, when Jack Paar was the host. "He didn't like me," she said. But Carson did, even hiring her as a writer.

By the 1980s, she thought of herself as Carson's daughter, and was his favorite guest host on the show when he was absent. But in 1986 it all came to tears. She announced she would host her own talk show on Fox in the same time period as The Tonight Show, thus becoming Carson's competitor. Somehow, she failed to warn him in advance.

He cut her off, never spoke to her again and banned her from the show, a ban that survived into the hosting terms of his two successors, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. Only this year, when Jimmy Fallon took over, did she return for her first appearance in nearly a half-century. In one of her books, she later said she regretted not asking for Carson's blessing.

But she survived, and even thrived.

At New York Fashion Week, stylists, designers and fashionistas say the late Joan Rivers will leave a void in the fashion community.

The documentary about her, which featured appearances by comics including Griffin, Jon Stewart, Denis Leary, Garry Shandling, Lily Tomlin and Bill Maher, provided a close-up look at Rivers' private dramas and vulnerabilities, and also the ruthlessness of the entertainment industry obsessed with youth and beauty.

No matter what, she was determined not to leave the stage until they carried her out on a stretcher, as her then-manager, Bill Stammeth, explained. "God help the next queen of comedy because this one is not abdicating — she'll leave nail marks on the red carpet."

The funeral is expected to be Sunday at Temple Emanu-El on the Upper East Side, according to WABC TV and the TheNew York Post, which quoted senior Rabbi Joshua Davidson's statement. "It is aterribly sad day for all of us," he said."We mourn with her family, friends and all those milions to whom she brought laughter and joy." ​ ​

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Contributing: Jocelyn McClurg

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