By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Comedians, friends and fans on Friday paid tribute and mourned the loss of Joan Rivers, the sassy, sharp-tongued, brutally honest comedy legend who died a week after her heart stopped during an outpatient medical procedure.
Rivers, 81, passed away peacefully on Thursday at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, surrounded by family and friends, her only child, Melissa Rivers, said in a statement.
Her funeral will be an invitation-only ceremony on Sunday at Temple Emanu-El, a landmark synagogue on New York's Fifth Avenue.
As bouquets of flowers piled up at the entrance of her Upper East side home, comedians and others remembered the raspy-voiced, Brooklyn native who helped pave the road for women in comedy, in statements, tweets and Facebook posts.
Late-night talk show host David Letterman said the force of her comedy was overpowering.
“Here’s a woman, a real pioneer for other women looking for careers in stand-up comedy," he said. "And talk about guts – she would come out here and sit in this chair and say some things that were unbelievable, just where you would have to swallow pretty hard ... but it was hilarious."
No topic or person was off-limits for Rivers, who stopped breathing during a throat procedure at a Manhattan clinic last week and was rushed to Mount Sinai, where she was put on life support.
The New York Medical Examiner's Office said it was investigating the cause of death but could not say when the results of an autopsy would be available.
Telephone messages left with the Manhattan clinic where Rivers was treated, which is being investigated by New York State's Department of Health, were unanswered.
It was the second death of a famed comedian in less than a month, following the suicide of comedy genius and actor Robin Williams, 63, who hanged himself in California on Aug. 11.
Comedian Jimmy Kimmel described Rivers, who appeared on his late-night show "Jimmy Kimmel Live" many times, as "a comedy legend."
“Joan was a very lucky person because she loved her job so much, she never wanted to stop and she didn’t have to stop, because she was still great at it,” he said on his show.
Rivers' influence reached far beyond her New York roots - her blunt, unapologetic humor made millions of people around the globe laugh.
Britain's Prince Charles said he was "deeply saddened" by the death of Rivers, who attended his 2005 wedding to the Duchess of Cornwall.
"Joan Rivers was an extraordinary woman with an original and indefatigable spirit, an unstoppable sense of humor and an enormous zest for life," the heir to the throne said in a statement. "She will be hugely missed and utterly irreplaceable."
Rivers, who was born on June 8, 1933, was also famous for having numerous cosmetic procedures, which she included in her comedy routine.
"I’ve had so much plastic surgery, when I die they will donate my body to Tupperware," said Rivers, who once described herself as the "the plastic surgery poster girl."
Rivers - whose catch phrase was "Can we talk?" - joked about everything, including her looks, marriage and sex. After starting as a comedy writer and doing stand-up, she worked her way up to regular guest host for Johnny Carson on NBC's popular "The Tonight Show."
Carson and Rivers had a falling-out when she started her own late-night talk show in 1986 on the rival Fox network. Her show was canceled within a year due to low ratings. A few months later, her husband and manager, Edgar Rosenberg, committed suicide.
Rivers also directed or appeared in movies and wrote books.
Later in her career, she and her daughter starred in the reality TV show "Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?", with Rivers living with her grown child.
Most recently, Rivers was the host of cable television channel E!'s "Fashion Police," commenting on the unfortunate red carpet choices of Hollywood celebrities.