NEW YORK - Joan Rivers, the caustic stand-up comic and television host who blazed a trail at a time when comedy was all but off-limits to women, died in hospital in New York on Thursday. She was 81.
The award-winning star had been in Mount Sinai Hospital since August 28, when she reportedly stopped breathing during a medical procedure on her vocal cords at a clinic in New York.
"It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers. She passed peacefully at 1:17 pm surrounded by family and close friends," daughter Melissa Rivers said.
Melissa and grandson Cooper had kept a vigil at Rivers' bedside since flying in from Los Angeles as soon as she fell ill.
"My mother's greatest joy in life was to make people laugh," her daughter added. "Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon."
Celebrities, including many younger female comics who followed her onto stages once dominated by men, raced to pay tribute to her rapier wit as their inspiration and to express their condolences.
"There are no words. Bon Voyage Joan," tweeted Oscar-winning actress and comic Whoopi Goldberg.
"A legend, a friend, a mentor, an icon, and wildly funny. One of a kind. RIP," said fellow comic Kathy Griffin, tweeting a picture of herself with Rivers.
"Rest in peace, Joan. We will always love you," said country music star Dolly Parton.
In Los Angeles, a scrum of tourists and journalists gathered at Rivers' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame where flowers were laid.
Dan Shadbolt, 43, who was visiting from Britain with his wife and three kids, said: "It's terrible news. She was an icon for me."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended heartfelt condolences for the loss of a comedy icon who brought laughter to millions around the world and was a vocal supporter of Israel.
'Can we talk?'
New York State Health Department said it was investigating the circumstances that surrounded her reported cardiac arrest while she was an outpatient at Yorkville Endoscopy Center.
The daughter of a well-off, middle-class Jewish family, Rivers enjoyed a stunningly successful career that lasted decades and worked right up until falling ill last week.
Born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in Brooklyn, she graduated from New York's Barnard College and worked in the fashion industry before starting out in stand-up under the stage name Joan Rivers.