Rodney Dangerfield (born Jacob Rodney Cohen November 22, 1921 – October 5, 2004) was an American , actor, voice artist, filmmaker, musician and author known for his self-deprecating humor, his catchphrase "I don't get no respect!" and his on that theme.
He began his career working as a stand-up comic in the resorts of the north of New York City. His act grew in notoriety as he became a mainstay on throughout the 1960s and 1970s, eventually developing into a headlining act on the casino circuit. A few bit-parts in films such as appeared throughout the 1970s, but his breakout film role came in 1980 as a boorish golfer in the ensemble comedy , which was followed by two more successful films: 1983's and 1986's . Additional film work kept him busy through the rest of his life, mostly in comedies, but with a rare dramatic role in 1994's as an abusive father. Health troubles curtailed his output through the early 2000s before his death, in 2004, after a month in a coma due to complications from brain surgery.
Cohen was born in in , , New York. He was the son of Jewish parents, Dorothy "Dotty" (Teitelbaum) and the performer Phil Roy (Phillip Cohen). His mother was born in the . Cohen's father was rarely home; he would normally see him only twice a year. Late in life, his father begged him for forgiveness, and the son obliged.
After Cohen's father abandoned the family, his mother moved him and his sister to , and he attended , where he graduated in 1939. To support himself and his family, he sold newspapers and ice cream at the beach, and delivered groceries.
At the age of 15, he began to write for stand-up comedians while performing at a resort in . Then, at the age of 19 he legally changed his name to Jack Roy. He struggled financially for nine years, at one point performing as a singing waiter until he was fired. He also performed as an acrobatic diver before taking a job selling aluminum siding to support his wife and family. He later said that he was so little known when he gave up show business that, "at the time I quit, I was the only one who knew I quit!"
In the early 1960s he started down what would be a long road toward rehabilitating his career as an entertainer, still working as a salesman by day. He divorced his first wife Joyce in 1961, and returned to the stage, performing at many hotels in the , but still finding minimal success. He fell into debt (about ,000 by his own estimate), and couldn't get booked. As he would later joke, "I played one club—it was so far out, my act was reviewed in ."
He came to realize that what he lacked was an "image", a well-defined on-stage persona that audiences could relate to, one that would distinguish him from other comics. After being shunned by some premier comedy venues, he returned to the East Coast where he began developing a character for whom nothing goes right.
He took the name Rodney Dangerfield, which had been used as the comical name of a faux cowboy star by on his radio program at least as early as the December 21, 1941, broadcast, and later as a pseudonym by on the TV program . The Benny character, who also received little or no respect from the outside world, served as a great inspiration to Dangerfield while he was developing his own comedy character. The "Biography" program also tells of the time Benny visited Dangerfield backstage after one of his performances. During this visit Benny complimented him on developing such a wonderful comedy character and style. However, Jack Roy remained Dangerfield's legal name, as he mentioned in several interviews. During a question-and-answer session with the audience on the album No Respect, Dangerfield joked that his real name was Percival Sweetwater.
Dangerfield’s one-liner style of comedy
- “My fan club broke up. The guy died.”
- “Last week my house was on fire. My wife told the kids, ‘Be quiet, you’ll wake up Daddy.’ ”
- “I was ugly, very ugly. When I was born, the doctor smacked my mother.”
- “I went to the fights last night, and a hockey game broke out.”
On Sunday, March 5, 1967, needed a last-minute replacement for another act, and Dangerfield became the surprise hit of the show.
Dangerfield began headlining shows in and continued making frequent appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. He also became a regular on and appeared on a total of 35 times. One of his quips as a standup comedian was, “I walked into a bar the other day and ordered a drink. The bartender says, ‘I can’t serve you.’ I said, ‘Why not? I'm over 21!’ He said, ‘You’re just too ugly.’ I said as always, ‘Boy I tell you, I get no respect around here’.” The “no respect” phrase would come to define his act in the years that followed.
In 1969, Rodney Dangerfield teamed up with longtime friend Anthony Bevacqua to build the comedy club in New York City, a venue he could now perform in on a regular basis without having to constantly travel. The club became a huge success, and has been in continuous operation for nearly 50 years. Dangerfield’s was the venue for several shows which helped popularize many stand-up comics, including , , , , , , , , , , , , and .Rodney Dangerfield's 1980 comedy album No Respect.
His 1980 comedy album, No Respect, won a . One of his TV specials featured a musical number, “Rappin’ Rodney”, which would appear on his 1983 follow-up album, . In December 1983, the “Rappin’ Rodney” single became one of the first Hot 100 rap records, and the associated video was an early hit. The video featured cameo appearances by as a priest munching on Rodney's of fast food in a styrofoam container and as a masked executioner pulling a . The two appear in a dream sequence where Dangerfield is condemned to die and does not get any respect, even in Heaven, as the gates close without his being permitted to enter.
Though his acting career had begun much earlier in obscure movies like (1971), Dangerfield's career peaked during the early 1980s, when he began acting in hit comedy movies.
One of Dangerfield's more memorable performances was in the 1980 golf comedy , in which he played an obnoxious property developer who was a guest at a golf club, where he clashed with the uptight Judge Elihu Smails (played by ). His role was initially smaller, but because he and fellow cast members and proved adept at improvisation, their roles were greatly expanded during filming (much to the chagrin of some of their castmates). His appearance in led to starring roles in and . Unlike his stand-up persona, his comedy film characters were portrayed as successful and generally popular—if still loud, brash and detested by the wealthy elite.
Throughout the 1980s, Dangerfield also appeared in a series of commercials for beer, including one in which various celebrities who had appeared in the ads were holding a bowling match. With the score tied, after a bearded told Rodney, "All we need is one pin, Rodney", Dangerfield's ball went down the lane and bounced perpendicularly off the head pin, landing in the gutter without knocking down any of the pins.
In a change of pace from the comedy persona that made him famous, he played an father in in a scene for which he wrote or rewrote all of his own lines.
Dangerfield was rejected for membership in the in 1995 by the head of the Academy's Actors Section, . After fan protests, the Academy reconsidered, but Dangerfield then refused to accept membership.
Dangerfield appeared in an episode of titled "", in which he played a character who is essentially a parody of his own persona, 's son . He also appeared as himself in an episode of .
Dangerfield also appeared in the 2000 film , playing , the father of () and grandfather of Nicky (Sandler).
He was recognized by the , which put one of his trademark white shirts and red ties on display. When he handed the shirt to the museum's curator, Rodney joked, "I have a feeling you're going to use this to clean plane."
Dangerfield played an important role in comedian 's rise to stardom. In the 1980s, after watching Carrey perform at the in Los Angeles, Rodney signed Carrey to open for Dangerfield's Las Vegas show. The two would tour together for about two more years.
Dangerfield was married twice to Joyce Indig. Together, the couple had two children: son Brian Roy (born 1949) and daughter Melanie Roy-Friedman. From 1993 until his death, he was married to Joan Child.
In 1980, Rodney shared an apartment on with a housekeeper, his poodle, Keno, and his closest friend of 30 years, Joe Ancis. Joe was also friend of and major influence on , and was a surrealistically fast and funny man who could never perform in front of strangers.
Dangerfield resented being confused with his on-stage persona. Although his wife Joan described him as "classy, gentlemanly, sensitive and intelligent," he was often treated like the loser he played. In his 2004 autobiography, It's Not Easy Bein' Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs ( ), which was released posthumously, he discussed being a longtime smoker. The book's original title was My Love Affair With Marijuana.
Dangerfield, while Jewish, referred to himself as an atheist during an interview with Howard Stern on May 25, 2004. Dangerfield added that he was a "logical" atheist.
Later years and death
On November 22, 2001 (his 80th birthday), Dangerfield suffered a mild heart attack while backstage at the . During Dangerfield's hospital stay, the staff were reportedly upset that he smoked in his room. But he was back at the Tonight Show a year later, performing on his 81st birthday.
On April 8, 2003, Dangerfield underwent to improve blood flow in preparation for -replacement surgery on a later date. The surgery took place on August 24, 2004. Upon entering the hospital, he uttered another characteristic one-liner when asked how long he would be hospitalized: "If all goes well, about a week. If not, about an hour and a half."
In September 2004, it was revealed that Dangerfield had been in a for several weeks. Afterward, he began breathing on his own and showing signs of awareness when visited by friends, however, he died on October 5, 2004 at the , a month and a half shy of his 83rd birthday, from complications of the surgery he had undergone in August. Dangerfield was interred in the in Los Angeles. His headstone reads, "Rodney Dangerfield... There goes the neighborhood."
Joan Child held an event in which the word "respect" had been emblazoned in the sky, while each guest was given a live for a butterfly-release ceremony led by .
’s Division of named a suite of operating rooms after him and gave him the “Rodney Respect Award”, which his widow presented to on October 20, 2005. It was presented on behalf of the /Division of Neurosurgery at at their 2005 Visionary Ball. Other recipients of the “Rodney Respect Award” include (2007), (2009), (2010), (2011), and (2012).
In his memory, ran a short sketch of Dangerfield (played by ) at the gates of heaven. mentions that he heard Dangerfield got no respect in life, which prompts Dangerfield to spew an entire string of his famous one-liners. After he’s done, he asks why Saint Peter was so interested. Saint Peter replies, “I just wanted to hear those jokes one more time” and waves him into heaven, prompting Dangerfield to joyfully declare: “Finally! A little respect!”
On September 10, 2006, ’s Legends: Rodney Dangerfield commemorated his life and legacy. Featured comedians included , , , , , , , , and .
In 2007, a Rodney Dangerfield tattoo was among the most popular celebrity tattoos in the United States.
On , May 29, 2009, Leno credited Dangerfield with popularizing the style of joke he had long been using. The format of the joke is that the comedian tells a sidekick how bad something is, and the sidekick—in this case, guitar player —sets up the joke by asking just how bad that something is.
Beginning on June 12, 2017, Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy hosted the first class of The Rodney Dangerfield Institute of Comedy. The class is a stand-up comedy class which is taught by comedienne Joanie Willgues, aka Joanie Coyote.
In August 2017, a plaque honoring Dangerfield was installed in Kew Gardens, his old Queens neighborhood.
AlbumsTitle Year Notes The Loser / What's In A Name (reissue) 1966 / 1977 I Don't Get No Respect 1970 No Respect 1980 #48 1983 #36 US La Contessa 1995 Romeo Rodney 2005 Greatest Bits 2008
Compilation albumsTitle Year Notes 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Rodney Dangerfield 2005
- I Couldn't Stand My Wife's Cooking, So I Opened a Restaurant (Jonathan David Publishers, 1972)
- I Don't Get No Respect (PSS Adult, 1973)
- No Respect (Perennial, 1995)
- It's Not Easy Bein' Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs (HarperEntertainment, 2004)
Awards and nominations
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- Dangerfield said he was an atheist during an interview with in May 2004. Stern asked Dangerfield if he believed in an afterlife. Dangerfield answered he was a "logical" atheist and added, "We're apes––do apes go anyplace?"
- ^ Brownfield, Paul (December 21, 2002). "Comic genius Dangerfield still cutting jokes to thwart boredom". Journal - Gazette. Ft. Wayne, Ind. Los Angeles Times. p. 3.D.
- Rosemarie Jarski, ed. (2010). . Ebury Press. p. 501. .
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- . CNN. October 19, 2010. Archived from on February 19, 2015. Retrieved November 5, 2014.
- . Bennett Awards. February 26, 2013. Archived from on October 6, 2015. Retrieved June 25, 2015.
- Chen, Perry; Yael, Aviva (February 23, 2007). . . Retrieved May 21, 2007.
- “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”, New York: National Broadcasting Company, May 29, 2009.
- Kilgannon, Corey (August 1, 2017). . . Retrieved August 25, 2018.
- Stephens, Chuck (August 18, 2011). . . from the original on March 22, 2016. Retrieved May 25, 2017.
- Smith, Richard Harland. . . Retrieved May 25, 2017.
- Mihoces, Gary (July 8, 2013). . . Retrieved May 25, 2017.
- It's Not Easy Bein' Me: A Lifetime of No Respect But Plenty of Sex and Drugs by Rodney Dangerfield. (c) 2004, HarperCollins Publishers.
- It's Not Easy Bein' Me: A Lifetime of No Respect But Plenty of Sex and Drugs by Rodney Dangerfield. (c) 2004, HarperCollins Publishers.
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