Comedian Joan Rivers, so loud, brassy and fearless, almost quit show business when her act bombed at the Bitter End, a tiny Greenwich Village club in the 1960s.

But she tried again after another embattled comic, Lenny Bruce, sent her a four-word note: “You’re right. They’re wrong.”

“I kept that note in my bra for years,” Rivers told interviewers decades later.

Robin Williams said his father, a serious man, would laugh uncontrollably when the zany Jonathan Winters showed up on the Tonight Show.

For poet and author Maya Angelou, 84, inspirations included giants such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and author James Baldwin. But it was a black woman called “Mrs. Roberts” who had the biggest influence. She was a teacher who convinced the 12-year-old Angelou, struck dumb for years by sexual abuse and a murder in the family, to speak again, and later to write.

And write she did. “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud,” Angelou advised.

Or later: “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot — it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”

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