Bill Cosby, who like fellow comedian Joan Rivers had his share of tragedy amid all the comedy and success, actually got Joan Rivers her big break. A comedian had bombed one night on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and Bill Cosby, who was the hottest thing then going with his hit I Spy, said to Carson’s Tonight Show people: “You might as well use Joan. She can’t be any worse than the guy you had on last night!” That’s how Rivers told the story anyway. She did get on and at the end of her performance Carson agreed with Cosby and then some. At the end of her set Carson, the undisputed king of late night, told Rivers on the air, “You’re going to be a big star.”
And then Carson set out to make it so. Rivers was probably still at her death–despite all her accomplishments–best known for hosting the Tonight Show as Johnny Carson’s substitute. And for the bitter fallout she had with Carson that resulted in their never speaking to one another again. Even late in life, Rivers was still fond of recalling Cosby’s roll in her good fortune. She recounted it for the documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work in 2010. Of course it helped that, in addition to getting a timely nod from Bill Cosby, Joan Rivers wrote over a million jokes.