Here's How Joan Rivers Pulled Herself Out Of A $37 Million Debt

Aly Weisman

In 1987, Joan Rivers' manager and husband of 22 years, Edgar Rosenberg, committed suicide after Fox fired them both following drama on "The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers."

The years that followed were a dark time for Rivers, both personally and professionally.

Before her death last week, Rivers spoke to Esquire magazine in 2007 about the financial state she was left in after her husband's unexpected death:

Yeah, it's true. I was $37 million in debt. I'm not a businesswoman. My husband was a businessman. I never had to worry about business. Afterward, some son of a bitch took me public and absconded with the funds. And all these horrible bottom-feeders came in and bought up my name and my likeness.

What it does to you? When you're in debt for the rest of your life? When you cannot work? When you're sitting there at fifty-eight years old, and they're telling you you cannot use your name or your likeness? You cannot sell a piece of jewelry, you cannot go on television? Try that one on for size...

The guy who absconded with the money, by the way, the SEC got him. He went to jail. A couple of butt-f---s later and he's out. Meanwhile, I'm still paying off my company. I will until the day I die.

Since her husband's death, Rivers worked non-stop trying to remain in the public eye and earn money to support her lavish lifestyle.

In 2009, at the age of 76, Rivers won NBC's "The Celebrity Apprentice." She later starred alongside daughter Melissa in WE TV's "Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?" and constantly made TV cameos on shows like "Louie." 

She has written 13 best-selling books.

Pointing to a calendar full of gigs, Rivers admitted "This is happiness," in the 2010 documentary about her life, "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work."

But one of Rivers' biggest money-makers of all was the line of jewelry and other products she designed and sold on QVC

"I'm a small industry," Rivers said of her career in the documentary. "I have an agent, manager, business manager, PR lady, two assistants, and a lawyer. There are certain relatives that I am still supporting, certain friends, most people who work for me — if they have children I send the children to private school. It goes on and on and on. I'm dancing as fast as I can."

"I live very, very well, I enjoy my creature comforts and I know I have to work for it," Rivers said in the 2010 doc. "I can stop and live carefully but that's ridiculous, I don't want to live carefully. So I would rather work and live the way I live and have a wonderful time."

In late July, in what would be her final big interview, Rivers talked to The Daily Beast about her current financial state, 27 years after she was forced to completely rebuild her brand.

"I have no riches," Rivers told interviewer Tim Teeman, who countered, "Come on, Joan, you are quite well off."

"No, I’ve always been salaried, I’ve never owned anything," Rivers argued. "I’ve done very well, lived very well. But sweetheart, I’m still working at Indian casinos in Omaha."

The rest of the conversation went like this:

TT: You seem terrified of not working.

JR: With comedians, you’re as good as your last joke.

TT: Where does the fear come from?

JR: It being over, and I can’t get a job in Macy’s selling hats.

TT: You could live off your money?

JR: I don’t have money to do that. I could pull my living in and live OK, but I don’t want to live OK. I’m very happy to live in my penthouse, very happy I can pick up a check, very happy to have a great life, and be able to spread my wealth a little bit.

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