Friends Reflect on the Life – and Send-Off – of Joan Rivers
As Joan Rivers’s funeral on Sunday closed with the sound of bagpipes filling the air on New York’s Fifth Avenue, the gathering of specially invited guests spilled out onto the sidewalk outside Temple Emanu-El to listen and reflect.
The Fashion Police star’s grieving daughter, Melissa Rivers, was among the first to depart, quietly and without fanfare, while Hugh Jackman, who delivered a rousing musical tribute to Rivers is=nside the synagogue, slipped away virtually unnoticed.
Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick and their son, James Wilkie, left together looking somber, while a visibly grief-stricken Rosie O’Donnell and ducked into a car with comedienne Kathy Griffin and other pals.
Speaking of Joan, a red-eyed Deborah Norville, who spoke during the hour service, told PEOPLE afterward, “She’s been my friend for almost 25 years.” As for the funeral, she said, “It started with Howard Stern saying things I don’t think you’re supposed to say in a sanctuary.”
She continued, “Joan was brash, Joan was out there. And a lot of the comments went that way, and it was a happy time. Yet it’s really sad.”
Still, she pointed out, “Hugh Jackman had us on our feet, we were clapping, we were fired up. It all started with the gay men’s chorus singing ‘Beautiful Sunday’ and ‘A Wonderful World.’ And that’s where I took my cue to begin my remarks. It is a beautiful Sunday, and it is wonderful world, but it’s a little less beautiful and wonderful because our dear friend isn’t here.”
Asked how Joan’s daughter held up, Norville said, “Melissa’ s amazing. When I spoke during the service, I said thank you to her.”
Another guest said to PEOPLE, “Melissa was obviously heartbroken, but she really held it together. You could tell she was trying to be a pillar of strength for her son [Cooper, 13], who did not leave her side.”
Dr. Mehmet Oz told PEOPLE Rivers would’ve loved the ceremony.
“My favorite part was she could invite her accountant … then have Hugh Jackman do a church revival at the end,” he said. “How special is that? She was a unique human being. You had to laugh with her. She was supposed to be on my show the day she died.”
Said the TV host, “The last time she was on the show … I was giving her a hard time about the number of plastic surgeries she’s had, and we were joking around about it, and she said, ‘It’s not the surgery I worry about. It’s the anesthesia.’ ”
Geraldo Rivera, sticking close to wife Erica, said of the service, “It was full of joy … and the idea that St. Peter or whoever is guarding the pearly gates is gonna have his hands full and have sidesplitting laughter.”