Joan Rivers Honored by David Letterman and Conan O'Brien in Emotional Tributes

Joan Rivers QVC - H 2014
AP Images/Invision

Joan Rivers QVC - H 2014

Joan Rivers is getting a proper sendoff from TV's late show hosts. The comedian died at age 81 on Thursday.

David Letterman called Rivers a comedy "pioneer" on Thursday's The Late Show.

"Here's a woman, a real pioneer for other women looking for careers in stand-up comedy," said Letterman. "And talk about guts — she would come out here and sit in this chair and say some things that were unbelievable, just where you would have to swallow pretty hard … but it was hilarious … the force of her comedy was overpowering."

Jimmy Fallon choked up while talking about getting a kiss from Rivers on his first Tonight Show.

"It was really emotional and really nice. I don't want to show a clip because I don't think it will do her justice," the emotional Fallon said, before encouraging people to watch the 2010 documentary Joan Rivers: Piece of Work. "We loved her. We will definitely miss her."

Jimmy Kimmel praised her as a "pioneer for women" who loved her job so much that she "never wanted to stop." He also showed one of his interviews with Rivers, in which she prayed her grandson would be gay so he would be impressed that she knew Judy Garland.

"My thoughts go out to Joan's daughter, Melissa, and her grandson. The good news is there is less pressure for him to be gay now," Kimmel joked. "There is less pressure for all of us to be gay now. We will miss you, Joan."

Meanwhile, Jon Stewart ended The Daily Show with a short tribute to Rivers, followed by a moment of zen dedicated to a 1967 standup routine performed on The Ed Sullivan Show.

"There are very few people in my business who you could say are actually groundbreaking talents. Joan Rivers was one of them," Stewart said. "Unfortunately, she has passed away. We send the very best to her family."

Conan O'Brien recalled watching Rivers when she would guest host on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show.

"When she did, it was an event. Everybody in the country would talk about it the next day," O'Brien said on TBS' Conan. "People would gather in the living room. Everyone would howl with laughter. ... At that time she was so outrageous and her comedy — it felt so out of the bounds and people were just blown away."

Craig Ferguson called it "a sad day for us in the comedy community."

"We lost Joan Rivers today, one of the all-time greats," he said on The Late Late Show. "Yes, I know, it’s terribly sad. I just hope that when Joan meets the man upstairs he is wearing something she can insult.”

Seth Meyers said during her Late Night appearance last month, Rivers told more jokes faster than any guest he'd had on.

"I wish she were here right now, because if she were here right now, she would make a joke about how she just passed away — and she would get away with it, because it would be really funny," Meyers said.

Rivers broke the late-night glass ceiling as a permanent guest host for The Tonight Show and then with her own late-night show on Fox. The latter caused a rift between her and Carson, with Rivers recounting in a 2012 essay for The Hollywood Reporter how he never spoke to her again. She was effectively banned from The Tonight Show until she returned earlier this year to Fallon's incarnation


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More on Joan Rivers' Life and Career

Sept. 4, 8:55 p.m. Updated with comments from Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson.

Sept. 4, 9:45 p.m. Updated with Jimmy Fallon comments.

Sept. 5, 9:55 a.m. Updated with video of Jimmy Fallon and Jon Stewart's comments.