Melissa Rivers Reflects on Her Relationship With Mom Joan Rivers: ‘The Chemistry Was So Easy’

“Anyone who says that mother-daughter relationships aren’t complicated is lying,” the producer known for red carpet commentary tells TheWrap

Joan Rivers and daughter Melissa Rivers
Joan Rivers and her daughter Melissa Rivers (Getty Images)

It’s been almost nine years since comedy legend Joan Rivers died following complications during a minor throat procedure. On that day, her daughter Melissa Rivers not only lost her mother but also lost a business partner. They publicly shared their personal lives on the reality series “Joan Knows Best,” on the red carpet every awards season and as critics and producers on “Fashion Police.” If that sounds like the formula for a complicated relationship, you’re right.

“Anyone who says that mother-daughter relationships aren’t complicated is lying,” Melissa told TheWrap. “They can be amazing and you can be close and you can have wonderful relationships with mothers and daughters, but no matter what, they’re complicated.”

Although we got to see them standing on opposite sides of every red carpet during awards season with mic in hand interviewing celebrities who were dressed to the nines and asking “Who are you wearing?,” it was their We TV reality series “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best” that really bared the complexities of their relationship and the deep connection they had. They would talk bitingly to each other, but then they would laugh and hug. It was a window into a relationship that a lot of people recognized from their own mother-daughter relationship.

I think that chemistry between my mother and I is also why the red carpet worked and also why ‘Fashion Police’ worked,” Rivers said, referring to the E! series that had the duo (along with George Kotsiopoulos, Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osbourne) commenting on celebrity fashion. “I think that that was a broader connection than just the reality show.”

But did exposing their relationship on camera have the same effect on Rivers as it did on their fans?

“Did it affect me? You know, when you’re in something you’re not so reflective,” Rivers said. “I think what people always respond to is that everyone always says, ‘That’s my relationship with my mother.’ That, ‘I saw myself even on the red carpets in your relationship.”

“Obviously I missed and I still miss my mom for being my mother,” she continued. “But I will never have another professional relationship like that. I’ll never have another partner like that, where the chemistry was so easy and knowing where the other person was going on a professional level. And knowing how to set each other up…I miss her professionally and I miss her personally. Very few people that I have worked with since where it’s like a great tennis match.”

For the first year and a half or two years after her mother’s death, Rivers couldn’t hear that unmistakable, raspy voice that Joan’s fans came to know and love. “I couldn’t hear it; I couldn’t listen to anything. I couldn’t hear her voice. It would make me…just…it would spin me out. Now I’m comfortable with it,” she said.

Joan’s voice – meaning her blunt, acerbic style of comedy – would most certainly be hit with harsh criticism in this hypersensitive time in our country, which has been rough on comedians who have been canceled for material deemed callous to some. If Joan were alive today, she would have nothing to do with that nonsense, her daughter said.

“I think she’d be very upset. I think she would be very frustrated. I think she would be, I guess the best word is ‘dismayed,’” Rivers said. “And I think it’s more, in a way, it’s bigger than just comedians and cancel culture. I think she would be so deeply saddened by the state of the world. I think it would really stretch beyond just comedians. I know that she would not be happy with comedians being attacked and the physicality of what’s happened. Her whole thing was like, we’re all ‘something.’ Everyone just needs to take a deep breath.”