Last week found me surprised with how I affected I was with the death of Joan Rivers. From the outside I would not appear to be her average fan. I have zero interest in celebrity fashion and I'm as likely to watch the Kardashian-centric E! Network as I am to kick off my Birkenstocks and totter around in a pair of sky high heels. And my simple living frugal ways hardly meshed with her lavish lifestyle.
But I still felt a strong connection to Joan Rivers.
Let me start at the beginning.
My father is first cousins with James "Jimmy" Sanger, Joan Rivers' first husband. You know, the one who rarely gets mentioned. The one who she was married to for, oh ... around six months in 1955, a marriage which ended in annulment since he had apparently failed to mention that he had no interest in becoming a father. (My father says there's much more to that history, but that's that's not my story to tell.)
So when I was a kid in the mid-1970's, watching the groove-fest that was PBS' Electric Company, my parents were always sure to mention her whenever the Letterman segment came on. Why? Because it was narrated by my very own cousin, Joan Rivers!
"Faster than a rolling "O," Stronger than a silent "E," able to leap capitol "T" in a single bound! It's a word, it's a plan, it's Letterman!"
I would sit on the floor, enjoying how I was related to a famous person, and I would let Cousin Joan's voice wash over my thumb sucking self.
And then in 1978, Joan Rivers came through town to publicize her movie Rabbit Test, and we all went to dinner. Granted my mother was the entertainment editor of the Portland, Oregon evening paper at the time, but it was still family eating a meal together. My mother had met and interviewed countless celebrities, but it was the first time that we kids were invited along!
I remember sitting in a restaurant booth next to 10-year-old Melissa, and despite being only a few weeks apart in age, we didn't say a word to each other. She seemed so sophisticated with her real leather boots and her glamorous mother. And when I asked my mother if I could have a pair of boots "like Melissa," the answer was "when your feet stop growing." (Still waiting on those boots, mom!)
As an adult, I've enjoyed following Joan Rivers' career, and was never one to join in on mocking her plastic surgery or her family traumas. I felt protective of her. After all, she was family. For those who criticized her brash demeanor and laser sharp sense of humor, I counter that these qualities were what made her so freaking funny, and would never have been criticized had she been a man.
She was an unapologetic and wickedly funny woman; and she was my cousin.
Who else is able to leap Capitol "T" in a single bound?
Goodbye, cousin Joan. I'm going to miss your spot-on barbs and wicked sense of humor.
Love, your cousin Katy.