12:10am PT by Philiana Ng
Joan Rivers on Her 'Tonight Show' Return: 'It's About Time!' (Video)
Jimmy Fallon debuted Monday as host of The Tonight Show, but it was also a momentous day for Joan Rivers.
The 80-year-old comedian and reality TV personality, who got her big break as Johnny Carson's first permanent Tonight Show guest host, returned to NBC's storied late-night talker for the first time in more than 25 years after being banned by Carson from appearing on the program. Coincidentally, Fallon's Feb. 17 debut marked the 49th anniversary of Rivers' first Tonight Show appearance on Feb. 17, 1965.
"It's about time!" Rivers said in a statement of her return. "I've been sitting in a taxi outside NBC with the meter running since 1987."
Rivers became Carson's permanent guest host in fall of 1983 but left just a few years later to launch her own competing program, Fox's The Late Show With Joan Rivers -- a move that Carson would never accept.
"I adored Johnny. In the ’70s, I did opening monologues, I was hosting. The turning point was when I left the show," Rivers told The Hollywood Reporter last December. "Everybody left the show to go to do their own shows. Bill Cosby. David Brenner. George Carlin. Everybody. I stuck around for 18 years. And they finally offered me my own late-night show. The first person I called was Johnny, and he hung up on me -- and never, ever spoke to me again."
On Monday, Rivers was just one of several stars who helped christen Fallon's new digs (and "pay off" a $100 Tonight Show bet).
"It was a double thrill for me to help welcome Jimmy on his first night. The program brought me great luck, and I know it will do the same for him," Rivers said, before making a bold statement: "He's the consummate entertainer whose reign as host, I predict, will surpass any of his predecessors."
Rivers reflected on her time in Studio 6-B, the same studio where Carson shot the Tonight Show and where Fallon will film five days a week. "Being in the studio brought back the most wonderful, wonderful memories of the night that jump-started my career," she said. "So when people ask me, 'Why was last night different from all other nights?' I'll tell them that it certainly beats Passover!"