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Joan Rivers from the film "Joan Rivers - A Piece of Work" attends the Tribeca Film Festival 2010 portrait studio at the FilmMaker Industry Press Center on April 27, 2010 in New York, New York. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Joan Rivers’ infuriating and entirely avoidable cause of death, confirmed

Joan Rivers' passing in 2014 was a blow to the entertainment industry.

Joan Rivers, born Joan Alexandra Molinsky, was an actress and television host known for her sharp wit, cheeky humor, and bluntness. As she once said, “I succeeded by saying what everyone else is thinking.” Her death in 2014 came as a shock to many, but her contributions to television and comedy still resonate to this day.

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A routine medical procedure gone wrong

On Aug. 28, 2014, 81-year-old Rivers underwent an endoscopy —  a routine outpatient procedure — at Yorkville Endoscopy in New York. The actress had been having issues with her vocal cords and had a sore throat, and the endoscopy would be able to point to a diagnosis. In the middle of the procedure, however, Rivers stopped breathing. Emergency services were called, and she was rushed to The Mount Sinai Hospital where she died a week later on Sept. 4.

A month later, the medical examiner’s findings were released. Her cause of death was listed as “anoxic encephalopathy due to hypoxic arrest.” In layman’s terms, she died of brain damage due to the lack of oxygen flow to her brain. Before the procedure, Rivers was sedated with the drug propofol, a sedative and anesthetic commonly used for medical procedures.

The investigation and lawsuit

Days after the actress’ death, a federal investigation was conducted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Their finding showed that several mistakes before and during the procedure may have led to Rivers’ death. According to the report, the actress’ weight was not recorded before sedation, which is important to know for giving the correct dosage of anesthetics. In addition, the procedure done was a laryngoscopy — which Rivers didn’t consent to — instead of an endoscopy. A staff member was also found to have taken photos of the actress while sedated.

Following the investigation, Joan Rivers’ daughter, Melissa, filed a lawsuit against Yorkville Endoscopy that ended in a settlement. Melissa released a statement and said that her goal was to prevent others from experiencing what her mother did. “In accepting this settlement, I am able to put the legal aspects of my mother’s death behind me and ensure that those culpable for her death have accepted responsibility for their actions quickly and without equivocation.” 

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Jean Mendoza
Jean has been a freelance writer since 2007 and has contributed to outlets such as Lomography, Inquisitr, and Grunge. Her expertise include true crime, history, and weird and interesting facts. Her spare time is spent listening to podcasts, reading books, and gaming.