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Last Girl Before Freeway
The Life, Loves, Losses, and Liberation of Joan Rivers
Read by Erin Bennett
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Joan Rivers was more than a legendary comedian; she was an icon and a role model to millions, a fearless pioneer who left a legacy of expanded opportunity when she died in 2014. Her life was a dramatic roller coaster of triumphant highs and devastating lows: the suicide of her husband, her feud with Johnny Carson, her estrangement from her daughter, her many plastic surgeries, her ferocious ambition and her massive insecurities.
But Rivers’ career was also hugely significant in American cultural history, breaking down barriers for her gender and pushing the boundaries of truth-telling for women in public life. A juicy, intimate biography of one of the greatest comedians ever — a performer whose sixty year career was borne, simply, out of a desire to make people laugh so she could feel loved — Last Girl Before Freeway delves into the inner workings of a woman who both reflected and redefined the world around her.
She sat on the bed, the gun in her lap. Everything seemed hopeless. "What's the point?" she thought. She couldn't think of one.
Only a few months earlier, Joan Rivers had everything she ever wanted: fame and fortune, the job of her dreams, a loyal husband, a loving child, a lavish estate—and a future that beckoned with enticing possibilities. After years of struggle, she had not only succeeded as a comedienne but had made history as television's first and only female late-night talk show host.
And now she'd lost it all. The first lady of comedy was fired from her job and publicly humiliated. Her husband—unable to bear his own failure as her manager and producer—killed himself. Their daughter blamed her mother for his death.
Reeling with grief and rage, Rivers then discovered she was broke. She had earned millions of dollars and lived a life of baroque luxury, but her husband had squandered her wealth on bad investments. She was $37 million in debt, and her opportunities for making more money had vanished.
At the Bel Air mansion where five telephone lines once buzzed relentlessly, the phone never rang. Nobody wanted to hire her as an entertainer. Suicide wasn't funny, and her husband's tragic death turned her into a professional pariah. Even her social life evaporated. No one invited her to anything.
As her fifty-fifth birthday approached, she couldn't see any reason to keep on living. It was hard enough for young women to succeed in show business, but for an aging has-been, resurrecting a ruined career seemed impossible. Her home once sheltered a happy family; now the rooms echoed with silence. In her fancy peach-colored bedroom, she was alone.
"This is stupid," she thought.
And then her Yorkshire terrier jumped onto her lap and sat on the gun. Rivers knew her way around firearms; she often packed a pistol, and she felt no hesitation about using it. Once, when an assistant accidentally surprised her in the middle of the night, Rivers thought she was an intruder and accosted her with trigger cocked. "Your time's up," she said calmly, ready to fire.
Maybe that was the answer now: one moment and the act would be done.
But then a terrible thought occurred to her: If she killed herself, what would happen to Spike? The diminutive Yorkie was very cute, but he was also mean and cantankerous. He didn't like anybody but his mistress, and he was ridiculously spoiled; his favorite food was a rare roast beef sandwich, no mayo or mustard. Joan's daughter referred to him as "a tall rat."
Without Joan, who would protect and pamper the tiny dog she loved so much?
"Nobody will take care of him!" she realized, aghast.
As she sat on her bed, staring down at the gun, no oddsmaker would have bet on Rivers's future. In the history of show business, no middle-aged woman had ever done anything remotely comparable to what she was about to do.
But Rivers didn't shoot herself, and she refused to give up and slink into oblivion. Written off as a lost cause, she started over, invented new opportunities for herself, and went on to achieve the impossible. Working with maniacal fervor through her sixties and seventies and into her eighties, she re-created herself as a cultural icon, a vastly influential trailblazer, and a business powerhouse who built a billion-dollar company.
In the process, she rewrote her entire life story. Raised to believe in the classic fairy tale of happily ever after, she had been desperate to find the requisite husband. When she finally got married at thirty-two, she was overjoyed to have a loyal helpmate who looked like the black-suited groom on a wedding cake—and even more thrilled when baby made three.
In her thirties and forties, Rivers achieved her very own, uniquely modern version of the American dream, a forward-looking combination of classic male goals and conventional female aspirations. Like a successful man, she earned wealth and fame, but she also had a happy family—the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for any woman, no matter how accomplished.
Together, Rivers and her husband created a marital mythology that enshrined her as the star but credited him as the essential power behind the throne. But as the years went on, appearance diverged from reality—at first by a little, and then, terrifyingly, by a lot. Unable to keep up with his voraciously ambitious wife, the man in charge became increasingly depressed about his own lack of success. Instead of elevating her to the heights she craved, Mr. Right ended up playing the pivotal role in taking her down.
When she had to start again in midlife and go it alone, reality forced her to embrace a very different narrative. Her steady climb to the top had turned into a dizzying roller-coaster ride that ricocheted between spectacular triumphs and soul-crushing failures—a Dickensian saga of alternating extremes that included deep loves and tragic losses, stinging betrayals and enduring devotion, agonizing rejections and the adulation of millions, economic terror and riches beyond the wildest imaginings of all but the rarefied few.
None of it was what she expected. She grew up chubby and plain, with drab hair and thunder thighs and a horsey face that remained resolutely unpretty even after the requisite nose job. Fiercely jealous of Elizabeth Taylor, only a year older but a movie star even as a child, Rivers never got over her anger that she herself wasn't beautiful.
But that seeming handicap proved far less important than she assumed. Throughout her life, Rivers believed that beauty was the key to women's happiness and success—and yet talent and ambition gave her rewards that far exceeded anything earned by the pretty girls she envied so bitterly.
She thought she needed a man to prop her up—but when she finally took charge of her own life, she became much more capable than the men she depended on. Convinced that a woman's worth is measured by the intensity of men's desire, she saw aging as the ultimate enemy—and yet she achieved her greatest renown long after passing the sell-by date society decrees to be the expiration of female sexual viability.
In her later years, Rivers claimed that Spike saved her life when he sat on her gun that day, but in truth her fate was preordained by the fanatical determination she always recognized as the core of her identity. "Even in my darkest moments, I knew instinctively that my unyielding drive was my most important asset," she wrote.
That drive inspired her philosophy of life, which was as ferocious as it was uncompromising: "Never stop believing. Never give up. Never quit. Never!"
And she never did. After her life fell apart, it took her years to dig her way out of the wreckage. The process was hard and humbling, but it ultimately produced an outcome that no one, not even Joan herself, could have foreseen.
When she died at eighty-one, she was, improbably and amazingly, at the height of her fame—not only as a comic who battled her way back from oblivion, but as an insatiable overachiever who had fought her way into a dozen other fields as well.
After a sixty-year career, she was still doing stand-up comedy every week of her life, but she had also been an Emmy Award–winning talk show host; a radio host; a reality star online and on TV; the best-selling author of memoirs, fiction, and self-help books; a playwright and a screenwriter; a film star and a Tony-nominated actress on Broadway; a Hollywood movie director; a Grammy Award–winning recording artist; a CEO and designer whose company sold more than a billion dollars' worth of jewelry and clothing on QVC; and a philanthropist who commenced her enduring support of AIDS patients at a frightening time when that commitment was a rare act of public bravery.
As a snarky fashion arbiter on the red carpet, Rivers played a key role in creating a multibillion-dollar industry that employed countless designers and stylists and hair and makeup artists and publicists and photographers and all the other minions of the voracious media that now feed off an endless round of celebrity galas and awards ceremonies, spawning a perpetual ratings bonanza of televised critiques.
All that frenetic activity made Rivers an icon to an enormous and wildly diverse audience. In her later years, her fans ranged from the little old Jewish ladies who were her actual contemporaries to the Middle American housewives who bought her rhinestoned bumblebee pins on QVC to the millennials of every race, religion, background, gender identity, and sexual orientation who followed her insulting, obscene commentary on Fashion Police.
Rivers never set out to be a revolutionary, but the things she said—as shocking as the toads jumping out of the nasty daughter's mouth in the French folktale—had long since made her into one. When she started out in stand-up comedy, women simply didn't do most of the things she ended up doing—let alone talk about them. But if polite society said it was taboo, Rivers couldn't resist making fun of it.
Appalled by the hypocrisy of the prevailing social mores, she mocked the double standards that judged men by different criteria than women. If she was fixated on finding a husband, she was also merciless in lampooning the relentless pressure on women to land a man.
When Rivers made it onto The Jack Paar Show, she explained, "I'm from a little town called Larchmont, where if you're not married, and you're a girl, and you're over twenty-one, you're better off dead."
Being Jewish only exacerbated the problem. On The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson asked her when Jewish parents start to harangue a daughter about her marital prospects.
"When she's eleven," Rivers replied.
Men had a lot more latitude. "Jews and Italians get very nervous if a daughter hits puberty and there's no ring on her finger," she observed. "A son can be ninety-five."
A woman's worth was measured by her youth and desirability, but men need offer little more than a pulse. "A girl, you're thirty years old, you're not married—you're an old maid," Rivers said. "A man, he's ninety years old, he's not married—he's a catch."
When her parents moved to the suburbs in the 1950s, the talk of Larchmont was the arrival of the New England Thruway, which bisected the town. As one of her signature comedic bits, Rivers conjured a vivid image to convey the endless humiliations her mother inflicted on the spinster daughter nobody seemed to want.
"I'm the last single girl in Larchmont," Rivers said. "My mother is desperate. She has a sign up: 'Last Girl Before Freeway.'"
Her mother expected Joan to do what she herself had done: get married, have children, and become a housewife obsessed with domestic perfection. And yet Joan's mother was miserable; her husband didn't earn enough money for the family to live the way she wanted, and their homelife was riven with bitter fights that forever scarred their children. Growing up in an explosive atmosphere of recriminations and regret, Joan vowed that she would never depend on a husband to support her.
What Joan wanted was fame—but achieving glory seemed even more remote than finding a nice Jewish husband. Ever since she played a pretty kitty in a preschool play, she had planned to be an actress, but she wasn't pretty, and no one thought she had any talent. After graduating from Barnard, she was rejected by all the casting agencies, even when she crept in through the door on her hands and knees and crawled all the way to the receptionist's desk to reach up from the floor and offer a rose with her white-gloved hand.
But finally one secretary laughed and said she was funny and maybe she should try comedy. When Joan started begging for the chance to do stand-up in Greenwich Village clubs, nobody thought she was any good at that either.
Behind their hard-won facade of middle-class gentility, her parents were frantic with worry. They couldn't understand why Joan refused to settle for a normal life. Her conviction that she was destined for stardom seemed delusional, and they were doubly mortified when she performed at their beach club and bombed so badly they had to sneak out through the kitchen door rather than face their friends. Whatever "it" was, the universal consensus was that Joan Alexandra Molinsky didn't have it.
Hurt and angry at their lack of faith in her dreams, Joan was undeterred. When an agent named Rivers told her that Molinsky wasn't an acceptable name for a performer, she became Joan Rivers on the spot. Bemoaning her failures in coffeehouses and comedy clubs, she portrayed herself as a wallflower who was perennially rebuffed by men. Even in the grubbiest dives, she was booed off the stage and fired before the second show.
But slowly, Rivers learned how to handle an audience, a challenge that demanded the ferocious control of a lion tamer. If audiences were tough, her peers were worse. Comedy was a man's world, and the men wouldn't let her in.
So she refused to take no for an answer. Bulldozing through previously impenetrable barriers as if they were made of toothpicks, she crashed her way into innumerable clubs run by hostile men who didn't want her. If they didn't consider her pretty enough to seduce, she taunted them with her relish for defying their judgments. Girls were supposed to be virgins until they married, but Rivers closed her show with a startling come-on: "I'm Joan Rivers, and I put out."
If women weren't allowed to share their experiences, she forced people to hear about them anyway. When she was eight months pregnant with her daughter, Ed Sullivan forbade her even to mention pregnancy on the air. Women were supposed to remain pristine on their pedestals, impersonating sanitized mannequins unsullied by corporeal reality. Rivers shocked her audiences by talking about what it feels like when a woman visits the gynecologist: "An hour before you come in, the doctor puts his hand in the refrigerator."
Audiences gasped, but she was just getting started; by the time she was a senior citizen, she was regaling people with jokes about the effect of age on female genitalia. "Did you know vaginas drop? One morning I look down and say, 'Why am I wearing a bunny slipper? And it's gray!'"
By then she was an international icon whose extraordinary career had been forged from an attention-grabbing hybrid of traditional female concerns and bold new transgressions. Pathologically afraid of gaining weight, she starved herself into an acceptable degree of emaciation; for decades, she ate only Altoids when she went out to dinner with friends. But she also became a ruthless enforcer of such strictures. Lashing out at women who let themselves go, she made headlines for lambasting her childhood nemesis.
"Elizabeth Taylor's so fat, she puts mayonnaise on aspirin."
"Elizabeth Taylor pierced her ears and gravy ran out."
"Mosquitoes see Elizabeth Taylor and scream, 'Buffet!'"
Until the end of her life, Rivers savaged other women for not conforming to the dictates of popular fashion, and her cruelty made some listeners recoil. As a cultural assassin, she even kept up with the times; her targets evolved from Elizabeth Taylor to Lena Dunham, but the rage never left her. And yet she was equally fearless about violating the social taboos that had long kept women in a Victorian stranglehold.
In doing so, she helped to shatter those taboos—but even as she did so, she continued to personify the contradictions that define women's lives. Until the week she died, Rivers performed outrageous comedy routines poking fun at the foolishness of men—but her entire life was shaped by her grief and anger at the male values that deemed her inadequate, no matter how hard she worked to live up to them.
She mocked the sexist and ageist attitudes that hold women back, but she remained hostage to the fears that made her into a virtual poster girl for grotesque excesses of plastic surgery. Mutilating her entire body with surgical interventions, she plumped up her sagging face with injectable fillers until she was unrecognizable as the plain young woman who had been catapulted to celebrity by a single star turn on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
And yet even as she conformed to the cultural straitjackets circumscribing women's behavior, Rivers played a significant role in destroying them. During her lifetime, the modern American women's movement built a freeway to the future that liberated millions of women and girls from the limitations of the past. Although Rivers never set out to become part of a social justice crusade, she was by nature the quintessential iconoclast, compulsively rebellious and utterly fearless in her willingness to thumb her nose at such restrictions. Like a large boulder dropped into a still pond, her defiance had a ripple effect that spread out in ever-wider circles, rocking every boat it encountered.
Rude and transgressive, Rivers's humor freed the women who followed her, liberating them to tell the truth about their experiences and their bodies and their feelings, to say whatever they wanted and reject other people's ideas about what a woman can't do, onstage or onscreen or anywhere else. Her boldness helped pave the way for the legions of aspiring comediennes who now throng stages all over the country, no longer deterred by the naysayers who tell them they're not pretty enough or fuckable enough—let alone that women aren't funny.
But Rivers was more than a role model for women in the entertainment industry. With stunning candor, she shared her own financial, professional, romantic, marital, and emotional struggles in self-help books and on motivational speaking tours. Unlikely as it seemed, the famous diva who lived in an apartment so lavish it was routinely compared to Versailles had also managed to make herself into everywoman's sympathetic best friend, an intimate confidante and sensible adviser whose strength and determination provided encouragement for ordinary people overwhelmed with their own challenges. As she put it in the subtitle of one of her books, "I've survived everything…and you can too!"
Both she and Elizabeth Taylor grew up at a time when the story of a woman's life was defined by the man she married. Taylor won renown as the most beautiful woman in the world, but her career was in decline by the time she hit middle age. Today she is primarily remembered for being beautiful—and for marrying eight times. Between them, Taylor and Rivers had a total of ten marriages, but neither of them ever found that a man was the answer.
As for beauty, Rivers would have traded all her achievements to become one of the swans she envied, but instead she used her midlife catastrophes to create the startling new accomplishments that made her a cultural powerhouse in old age.
For her, the real answer was success. She never saw herself as a feminist groundbreaker; all she ever wanted was to make people laugh so she could feel loved in return. No matter how many triumphs she accumulated, she still felt unappreciated—but when she died, in 2014, the outpouring of emotion was so overwhelming that no one could fail to realize she had won the love of millions.
Headlines around the world recognized her as a history-making pioneer who left a legacy of expanded opportunity for all those who followed. An inspiration for anyone struggling to overcome heartbreak and tragedy, she had long since become a living embodiment of courage, ingenuity, and resilience for every woman who faces unexpected hardships—or who yearns for something more substantial than a life story defined by how she looks and whom she marries.
Fierce and indomitable, the ugly duckling was the one who helped to change the world.
Nobody Ever Wanted It More:
"But She Has No Talent!"
In school, she didn't have friends. At lunch, she couldn't find anyone who wanted to sit with her. During recess, nobody chose her for their team in any sport.
Such slights made her feel bad, but from her earliest childhood, Joan Alexandra Molinsky was consoled by the incandescent memory of the unforgettable moment when she discovered the solution to all of life's disappointments.
The epiphany arrived like a bolt from the heavens when she won the role of a kitty in the preschool play. Performing in front of an audience, she was struck by "the ecstatic sense…that I could say, 'I want to be somebody wonderful and walk out onstage and be the princess,' and the world would say, 'Yes, you are the princess!'"
When everyone applauded, she was suffused with a joy she had never known—a miraculous high she spent the rest of her life trying to recapture. People accepted her! They enjoyed her! They thought she was beautiful!
That night she wore her kitty cat hat with the bunny fur and pink felt ears to bed, where she sat in her best pajamas and waited expectantly for her parents to bring their dinner guests upstairs, certain that the grown-ups would again make a fuss over her and say, "Aren't you darling!"
She didn't stay darling for long. As a very small child she was an angelic blonde, but the golden ringlets soon drooped and darkened to a dull mouse brown, her nose grew, and the tiny princess got so pudgy she would never stop despising herself for having been overweight as a child.
But she had found the magic escape from her self-loathing, from feeling inadequate and unwanted. She had learned how to make people love her, even if only for a few precious moments—and she was hooked forever.
From then on, the pretty kitty story represented the emotional truth at the core of her very existence—the Rosebud moment that defined the rest of her life. But in other regards, Joan Rivers's public story of origin—like so many other aspects of her carefully constructed identity—was a shrewdly designed facade that obscured a considerably less photogenic reality.
When she started to appear on television, she always said she came from Larchmont, a New York suburb that was noted for its "impeccable gentility," as she put it with airy nonchalance, as if she was born to the little black dress and WASPy strand of pearls she wore like a uniform for her early TV performances.
But even in a black dress and pearls, Rivers couldn't resist the temptation of juicing up her impact with some showbiz pizzazz, so she always added a tacky feather boa. In the photographs of her first ever appearance on The Tonight Show, the bedraggled boa is crumpled in a forlorn heap, like a limp, mangy bird that happened to die on her lap while she was bantering with Johnny Carson.
Her life story offered an equally curious amalgam of disparate elements. Far from the leafy green suburbs, Joan was born in 1933 in Brooklyn, where she spent her childhood. She and her older sister, Barbara, were raised in Crown Heights, at the intersection of Eastern Parkway and New York Avenue, on a block of houses known as Doctor's Row. Their father, Meyer Molinsky, was indeed a doctor. But he grew up poor in a family of struggling Russian immigrants, and he never figured out how to be a successful businessman—a failure that had harrowing consequences for his family.
Trying to establish a practice during the Depression, he seemed perpetually unable to manage the financial demands of running an office, so he would skip out on the rent by disappearing in the middle of the night after emptying everything he owned into a truck at 3 a.m. A soft touch who cared more about having people love him than about paying the bills, he charged a dollar a visit and accepted a cake or gefilte fish if his patients said they couldn't pay, even if they were driving a new car and he wasn't.
"If somebody was sick, he would just take care of them. Money didn't mean anything," said Larry Ferber, a longtime friend of Joan's and the former executive producer of her daytime television talk program, The Joan Rivers Show.
Unfortunately, money was what meant the most to Meyer's socially ambitious wife. Beatrice Grushman came from a family of well-to-do merchants in Odessa, and she raised her daughters on enthralling stories of her own enchanted Russian childhood, of lavish parties with peacocks strolling on lush emerald lawns and liveried waiters twirling trays of gold flatware and pears filled with caviar. But all their riches were left behind when their lives were overwhelmed by Russia's prerevolutionary turmoil. After sewing jewels into the sable lining of her coat, Beatrice's mother fled with her children to America.
As a young woman in New York, Beatrice worked at a sewing machine in a blouse factory, stuffed her shoes with newspaper when the soles wore out, and lived in a cold-water flat, where she slept on two chairs pushed together while her bed was rented to boarders. Humiliated by her family's straitened circumstances and haunted by their loss of privilege, she developed a lifelong obsession with the trappings of wealth. She spent the rest of her life trying to create the appearance of class, which to her mind was signified by materialistic excess and exaggerated formality.
"Both my parents were almost pathologically terrified of poverty," Joan wrote in her first memoir, Enter Talking, which was published in 1986. But instead of bonding over shared trauma, her parents dealt with their fears in disastrously conflicting ways. While the debt-ridden Meyer agonized over every penny they spent, Beatrice filled their home with damask and brocade, dressed her daughters in silk pajamas from Paris, and squandered $2,000 the family didn't have on a mink coat that sent her husband into paroxysms of helpless rage.
"Elegance was her religion," Joan said. "My mother wanted MD to stand for 'Make Dollars.'"
Although there were never enough dollars to satisfy her, Beatrice refused to curtail her extravagance. No matter how many screaming fights the Molinskys had over money, no matter how many times Beatrice stormed out of the house in disgust and then slunk back home because she couldn't support herself, her compulsive spending forced her husband to live perpetually beyond his means.
The consequences were painful for everyone. To the outside world, the Molinskys were the very embodiment of midcentury success—a nuclear family with a doctor father, a beautifully dressed mother who gave impressive dinner parties, and two healthy children. But behind closed doors, the atmosphere was poisonous. Beatrice's ferocious quest for status caused unbearable financial pressure that doomed the entire family to live in a state of unrelenting stress. The result was an excruciating tension between the refined image they strove so hard to convey and the terrifying economic insecurity that always threatened to overwhelm them.
- "Highly readable.... Bennetts' clear-eyed biography shows why this ambitious, 'stubbornly paradoxical' woman who 'wasn't ready to cede the spotlight' continues to command our attention. (3 out of 4 stars)"—Jocelyn McClurg, USA Today
- "You may think you know Joan Rivers, but I'll bet you'll be shocked by the revelations in Leslie Bennetts's irresistible biography. Before there was a women's movement or much hope for a woman in stand-up comedy, Joan made it by ridiculing everything she craved, from beauty and respectability to fashion and power. With unmatched energy and an ambition that made Napoleon look like Gandhi, she broke the boundaries of taste and commonsense-and widened the path for us all."—Gloria Steinem
- "Joan was a great friend of mine and this is one hell of a book. A terrific read from start to finish, it captures Joan completely. Five stars."—Larry King, television and radio host
- "The story of Joan Rivers is also the story of the trials and tribulations faced by talented and ambitious American women for decades, and Leslie Bennetts tells her story in riveting, surprising, heart rending, and hilarious detail."—Tina Brown, author of The Diana Chronicles
- "Leslie Bennetts has delivered a big, juicy biography of comedy's First Lady that takes the reader behind the scenes in the male dominated entertainment industry. That would be fascinating enough, but what stays is a portrait of a woman whose drive is fueled almost entirely on self-loathing. We know by now that most comics are in great pain-this account understands the high cost of all of those outrageous over-the-top screamingly funny classic Joan Rivers zingers."—Betsy Lerner, author of The Bridge Ladies
- "[An] affectionate and entertaining bio."—O, the Oprah Magazine
- "In this first detailed biography of Rivers since her death, Bennetts reveals the woman behind the schtick. It's all here.... Celebrity mavens and fans of well-written biographies will enjoy this title."—Rosellen Brewer, Library Journal
- "[A] fascinating biography."—Entertainment Weekly
- "Undeniably dishy.... A fat and full book that will satisfy fans who want all of Joan in one place."—Ilene Cooper, Kirkus Reviews
- "Thoroughly researched and eminently readable.... Last Girl Before Freeway is likely to be, for our time, the definitive biography of [Rivers]."—Jonah Raskins, NY Journal of Books
- "A sympathetic portrait of the scathingly funny and ambitious comedian."—Tom Beer, Newsday
- "Thoroughly researched and eminently readable."—Jonah Raskin, New York Journal of Books
- "[A] frank and compelling biography.... A clear-eyed exploration of Rivers's historical and cultural significance.... Bennetts offers an important work that lifts her much-dismissed subject to her proper place in history. You can love Joan. You can hate Joan. But Last Girl Before Freeway won't let you deny her significance."—Sara Eckel, Washington Post
- "Read it either as a very diverting distraction from the maelstrom of politics, or as an instruction manual for how to get off your ass, kick despair to the curb, and make lemonade out of the most sour of lemons."—Julia Felsenthal, Vogue
- "In this hard-digging biography, Leslie Bennetts uncovers the scars and warts, the tall tales and the true, giving Rivers exactly the memorial she deserves."—Boris Kachka, New York Magazine
- "Bennetts is a skilled reporter and writer, and she pieces together primary and secondary reporting with extraordinary skill as she unspools Rivers' life and career...I came away from Last Girl Before Freeway with a new appreciation for (Rivers) both as a groundbreaking cultural icon and formidable businesswoman. (A-)"—Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly
- "The arrival of the first major biography of Rivers."—Lisa Levy, New Republic
- "Bennetts's reporting gives readers unparalleled access to her subject, which comedy fans, and those just fascinated by superstardom, will greatly enjoy."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
- "There's a lot to discuss when it comes to the polarizing Rivers...and Bennetts covers it all with aplomb. No matter how you feel about Rivers, reading this book will give you a better understanding of a woman who fought for space in a male-owned industry. Oh, and you'll laugh, too."—Steph Opitz, Marie Claire
- "A dishy, thorough biography."—Riley Cardoza, Good Housekeeping
- "Examines the polarizing Rivers' life in almost forensic detail. It's an impressive, and telling, account."—Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News
- "A welcome investigation into the circumstances that shaped this influential, raspy voiced comedienne."—Daphne Merkin, Departures
- "Dishy."—Hilton Dresden, Out Magazine
- "A juicy, intimate biography of a performer whose career spanned 60 years."—Nicki Gostin, Fox News
- "Snappy.... The best parts of the book are tart evocations of the mid-century comic-club scene and of Rivers's inimitable panache."—New Yorker
- "Deliciously dishy."—Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe
- "There's no doubt that Rivers was an interesting figure, and Bennetts' account is just as much so."—Stephanie Topacio Long, Bustle
- Leslie Bennetts's biography of Rivers, Last Girl Before Freeway: The Life, Loves, Losses, and Liberation of Joan Rivers, provides an eagle-eyed view of Rivers's entire life, and the vistas are breathtaking.—Paul Constant, The Seattle Review of Books
- "Revelatory....Even if you think you know 'one of the world's most uninhibited mean girls,' Bennetts has some surprises."—Jane Sumner, The Dallas Morning News
- "The Rivers story is well known, but Bennetts [...] brings nuance and empathy to her remarkable life".—The Toronto Star
- On Sale
- Nov 15, 2016
- Hachette Audio