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I Was One of the Last Journalists to Speak to Joan Rivers - And She Was as Brilliant as Ever

30/09/2014 20:54 BST | Updated 30/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Joan Rivers was one of those people who seemed like they'd live forever. She'd been doing the rounds for almost six decades - starting out opposite a then-unknown Barbra Streisand playing a lesbian lover. Lesbians and gay men would go on to play a big role in her life, as she would theirs, as she became something of a gay icon.

It was for that status that I came to talk with Joan Rivers some weeks ago. As a journalist for GT (Gay Times) magazine, we were embarking on writing our 30th anniversary issue with the theme of 'gay icons'. An interview with Joan Rivers was top of the list, and with plans to go on a UK tour this October, the opportunity presented itself.

I've been a fan of Joan for years. But weeks before Joan and I came to speak, she had started to make some real waves with her publicity tour. Calling Barack Obama "gay", Michelle a "tranny" and then storming off a TV interview about her new book. As if that wasn't enough, she decided to intervene on the Gaza conflict by insulting some of the victims. Even by Joan Rivers' standards, she was having a controversial summer.

So nerves were aplenty as the interview beckoned. It was 10am in her daughter Melissa's home. Joan's assistant apologises that the queen of mean isn't feeling so well today; she has the flu. As her voice comes to the phone, she's clearly not in great shape, repeatedly clearing her throat.

But she shrugged off her surgery as a "pre-tour facelift". Of course, the reality was to be considerably more serious. But Joan doesn't much like serious, as she quipped when asked about Kristen Stewart suing her over negative remarks, "I just think that a lot of people are losing their humour. I always say, 'if you don't know what I do at this point in my life, then what do you think I do?"

The point she had reached in her life was one totally at ease with herself. As I enquired about her state, Joan refused to say she was at her happiest, "because I'm very superstitious," but said that, more than in a long time, "I'm very happy."

I could tell. She had probably done a hundred interviews in the past month - little did I know this one would come so close to her end - but still she bursts with enthusiasm. Never more so than discussing her 13-year-old grandson, Cooper, who comes running up to his grandma part way through our interview.

"Sorry, excuse me," Joan said as the line became more muffled and she hugged Cooper before he headed for his lacrosse match. "We just got back from a trip together and he [Cooper] said, 'It's so nice because you make people laugh all the time.' Isn't that great!"

Family had always been important to Joan. She married a Cambridge-educated TV producer in the 1980s, Edgar Rosenberg. The story of their marriage, and his eventual suicide, was always of much more interest to me than the powers of her comedy. We all knew that Joan was hilariously funny, but there's a much darker story to her than would always meet the eye.

I asked about that time in her life: "Everything was ruined. Totally ruined. It was like Samson pulling down the temple," she told me, speaking of losing her Fox chat show, and then her husband. "But I was fired because of something he [Edgar] did to Rupert Murdoch, that's why I was fired. It had NOTHING to do with the numbers and ratings," she argues.

She then revealed that, in the weeks after his death, she had considered the same fatal treatment for herself. "Just say it! Suicide?" she responds to my questioning, unsure where the line is in our brutally frank conversation is. "I thought about it for a second. I had the gun on my lap," she answered, before describing the heartbreak of that time.

Discussing her dark past was the only time Joan's trademark rasp faded. I'd wanted to get behind the 'mask' of her eccentric persona, but as I did it felt like a very different Joan.

In the main it wasn't the Joan Rivers we see on TV that answered the phone that morning. She was warm, easy to talk with and hugely professional. There was nothing offensive about her; it felt like talking with my own grandmother. Though, admittedly, I don't tend to ask my own grandmother about her RuPaul's Drag Race and whether she gets horny - both things Joan waxed lyrical about...

Before we finished our conversation, Joan took time to ask about my own background and insisted we meet after her Royal Albert Hall show. Most celebrities couldn't care less for who's talking to them, but Joan had an obvious sense of maternal empathy to her.

Barely enough days had passed from our encounter for the excitement to settle in before the news broke of her serious ill-health. We will never meet at the RAH. But her boundless energy and comedy will live on. And that is priceless.

To read Joan's full interview reflecting on her life in her final days, the October issue of GT is available in WHSmith nationwide from 1 October, or to download from www.gtdigi.co.uk

joan rivers