Transcript for Barbara Walters Remembers Joan Rivers
Enjoy your bodies now. I go to the bathroom, it's just -- I use my left boob as a stopper in the tub. Well, it was always unpredictable to interview her. As Barbara Walters learned over 25 years of friendship, you still did not know what was coming. It seems to me that everybody out here has a name for their house, do you have a name for your house? Mortgage manor. Reporter: When I interviewed her back in 1982, Joan rivers was flying high. She was one of the hottest nightclub acts in America, on the road almost ten months a year, earning up to $100,000 a week. She was the brash blonde who lived larger and louder than life. Can we talk here? Do you want to know what bravery is? Bravery is to make a gynecologist appointment and show up. That is what bravery is all about. Nothing embarrasses you? Onstage, nothing, yes. In private life, everything. You are very different off stage than on. What's the difference? On stage, I say all the things I think about in the shower. You know, it's like you go to a party and the next day, I should have said that to that one, and then the nice thing is you go on stage and you say it, because I'm very shy. I'm very pulled back. I hate to meet new people and I am very intimidated by the greats. Did you become a comedienne because it's your way, perhaps, of saying, "You're not going to make fun of me, you're not going to tear me down. I am going to do it before you." Absolutely, absolutely. If you tell them first they can't get, they can't get you, they can't hurt you. Reporter: Born Joan Molinski, she grew up in larchmont, New York. Oh! The ugliest child ever born in larchmont, New York. Okay? The doctor looked at me and slapped my mother. You want to hear stories? Then he pushed me back in and screamed, "She's not done yet!" How did a nice jewish girl, daughter of a doctor, become a comedienne? I wanted, we all wanted to be actresses. How did your parents feel when you said I want to be in show business? Terrible scene. If I had come to them and said I want to be a doctor, said, "Go. Do it." If I had said I want to be a rocket scientist, they would have said, "Isn't that nice?" I said I want to be an actress and my father, whenever a prostitute came to his office, they would say, "I'm an actress," you know what I mean? When I said I'm an actress, I want to be an actress, my father said, "She wants to be a prostitute." So they threw me out, they just couldn't take it. They tossed me out of the house. Reporter: A phi beta kappa graduate of Barnard college, Joan started her career calling herself pepper January, comedy with spice. I was singing in strip joints, "I'm in love with Mr. Clean." I was singing, you know, and they would just go crazy, you know, "Take it off," and if I had it would have been worse. Reporter: Those early years were lean and hungry days. No stage was too humble for a woman who was cracking the glass ceiling of an all-white male comedy club. What was it like? Oh. Barbara, the worst. It was awful. It was horrendous and I was fired from the job every night. I would do these shows, one show, and the owner would come back and say, you're gone. Were you that bad? I was performing and over the loudspeaker the owner said, "Get her out of here." It was awful. Because of that, I was fired so often that, not to this day, up to three years ago, I would leave nothing in a dressing room. I was so superstitious because the worst part is to come back the next day when you've been fired and have to pick up all your make-up and explain to all the cleaning people. Reporter: We now know those years of trawling the seedy nightclub circuit finally paid off big. February 17th. Think it made an impression? At what time -- moment did you walk out on the stage? I had been kicking around in the business for six years before that and told three weeks before by my agent, you're too old and you're not funny. And I went on the Carson show as a girl writer. I had been brought to the Carson show seven times. I had auditioned for them seven times. And got turned down? Seven times turned down. And I was in the village and starving and it was a horrendous period for me. Terribly down, terribly depressed. I went on the Carson show and that night, I get very emotional, he said, "You're going to be a star." Look at this, I can't even talk about it, and that changed my life. I'm so grateful to him -- I tell him all these years later, I still thank him. He changed my whole life. He turned around and said, "You're all wrong. She is funny." What did you do that night? I couldn't believe it. See, I'm crying now. I couldn't believe it. I looked, he said, "You're going to be a star," and I looked next to me, who is he talking to? And my agent said, "From now on," he said, "I guarantee you will make at least $150 a week for the rest of your life." Wow! Wow. And I said, but I said at that time, wow. Because I was getting six dollars a night at that point. Reporter: I interviewed her before that bitter break with Johnny Carson. Here's Joan rivers! Reporter: Those were the golden years when she had become his most popular stand-in. You do the Johnny Carson show probably more than any other guest host, do you not? I do it a lot. You do. Okay. Yet, when there are times when you hear that Johnny may or may not leave the show and names come up as possible replacements, I don't hear your name. Never. Why? I'm a woman. I'm acerbic. I'm New York and I'm jewish. It's okay to guest host, but you couldn't do it all the time? No. No way, no. Would you want to? In a second. But it will never happen. I can see why being a woman would do -- you know, why New York and jewish? Again, because there's a certain roughness and a certain edge to a new Yorker. Anybody that has a little zap to them turns a lot of people off, you know? You want to go, "I'm just here to make you laugh. It's all a joke, folks." You know? You have worked very hard. You've described yourself sometimes as a turtle. My career is very slow. People don't think so. Oh, Barbara. It's little tiny steps. My career is not that you go in a show and you take off. It's been from the beginning inching up, inching up, inching and it's still that way. Reporter: For more years than I can remember, Joan and I shared laughter and friendship. Both off stage and on. Her majesty, Joan rivers! And no more botox! Betty white's bowels move more than my face. It's like -- I can totally be a skin donor. Reporter: She often joked with me about being the queen of plastic surgery. Just look at how radically her face changed through the years. What we all love about you is that you do make fun of yourself. What are some of the things you say about Joan rivers? Oh. With facelifts? Yeah. Every time I cross my legs, my mouth snaps open. I really feel I got my face tightened because now, every time, now, that I swallow, I have an orgasm. I mean, I have a million jokes. But, you know, by laughing at it, it makes it okay. Why are you so open? You didn't have to be. Because we're in a society where looks count, Barbara. That's number one. And all the beautiful women lie and say I've done nothing, and that is so unfair. And I just want women to know it's okay. Do it. What do you say to people who say, "Joan rivers, you have just done too much?" And I say, "Mind your business." And if it's a man, I always look at the wife, who's usually 11 years old with fake breasts. Reporter: The woman America knew as a pop culture icon, comedienne, talk show host, author, actress, red carpet gadfly, was my brave and fearless friend. Even at 81, she was still the hardest working woman in show business. That I know. I worked very hard for where I am, but I'm also very, very lucky and I'm very, very grateful. Every night before I walk on stage I always say, "Thank you god." Just in case he's listening.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.