How Joan Rivers Raised Millions for People Living With HIV/AIDS

Joan Rivers Best Looks Horizontal - H 2014
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Joan Rivers Best Looks Horizontal - H 2014

'I don't think she understood how she touched people,' says philanthropist Blaine Trump

A version of this story originally appeared in the Sept. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

I always say that there are two categories of people in this world: givers and takers. Joan Rivers was a giver.

A friend of mine came over from London and her 5-year-old son was very, very sick in the hospital with cancer. Joan sent 50 boxes of jewelry to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center with a note to my girlfriend that read, "I've found the nurses are a lot more helpful when you bribe them, so here’s this jewelry. And by the way, I have every important Jew in New York praying for your son." The nurses loved it.

At God’s Love We Deliver (Joan served as board member), we’ve gotten so many calls from so many people in the past week who have wanted to send a gift in Joan’s honor. We’ve seen a huge spike because people loved her — especially New Yorkers — and she really loved the organization. And because of her we have become known, especially after 2009 when she won The Celebrity Apprentice and God’s Love We Deliver was awarded more than $500,000. That was a big breakthrough for us.

She was a little reluctant at first because it was a huge time commitment ... six weeks of nonstop filming. She was competitive, and when she thought about the charity element and what a huge check it would be for God's Love We Deliver, that really did it. There was no other way to think about it. Her commitment to God's Love We Deliver was extraordinary.

I met Joan in the mid-to-early 1980s. It was around that time that Joan headlined one of the first fundraisers for AIDS in Los Angeles. The fellow who did her hair died of AIDS, and she was so broken-hearted and distraught over the way he was treated. She became really angry at the way gays were being treated, especially if you were HIV-positive. The discrimination was unacceptable to Joan. 

That’s one of the reasons I asked her to join our team at God’s Love We Deliver — an AIDS organization for anyone who can't shop or cook or feed himself or herself. She showed up the next Thanksgiving and made a delivery, and you can imagine what it was like opening the door and seeing Joan Rivers standing there. She always had on a fur or jewelry and always looked like a million bucks. It was really something.

I remember one delivery we went on, to see a client was in SoHo. There was no elevator in the building and she was dressed to the nines. We had to walk up seven flights of stairs. When we got to the door, she fell in the apartment and said, "I’ve got to sit down. Here’s your meal. Can’t you live on a lower floor?" She was hilarious.

She always found the humor and embraced it. Her commitment to the organization was amazing, and she thought it was very important that her grandson Cooper come with her to every Thanksgiving to do a delivery. She wanted him to understand that the realities of life were not always what you think.

I don’t think she understood how she touched people. I think she would be blown away.

Philanthropist Blaine Trump serves as vice chair of God’s Love We Deliver, an organization where Joan Rivers volunteered for two decades.

Read more trom THR's Joan Rivers issue:

The Story of Joan Rivers: 24 Famous Friends From Dick Cavett to Donald Trump Construct Stunning Oral History for THR

Joan Rivers Remembered: Read Daughter Melissa's Funny Eulogy in Full

Joan Rivers' Rise From Rags to TV Retail Riches