Dangerfield (November 22, 1921 – October 5, 2004), born Jacob Cohen,
was an American comedian and actor, best known for the catchphrase "I
don't get no respect" and his monologues on that theme.
Early life and career
He was born on Long Island in the town of Babylon, the son of
vaudevillian Phil Roy (Philip Cohen). He would later say that his
father "was never home — he was out looking to make other kids”, and
that his mother "brought him up all wrong”. As a teenager, he got his
start writing jokes for standup comics; he became one himself at 19
under the name Jack Roy. He struggled financially for nine years, at
one point performing as a singing waiter (he was fired), before giving
up show business to take a job selling aluminum siding to support his
wife and family. He later said that he was so little known then 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, still working as a salesman by day. He came to realize
that what he lacked was an "image" — a well-defined on-stage persona
that audiences could relate to and that would distinguish him from
similar comics. He took the name Rodney Dangerfield, which had been
used as a comical name by Jack Benny on his radio program at least as
early as the December 12, 1941 broadcast and later as a pseudonym by
Ricky Nelson on the TV program The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
However, Jack Roy remained his legal name, as he mentioned from time
to time. During a question and answer session with the audience on
the album "No Respect," Rodney joked that his real name is Percival
Fate intervened one Sunday night in New York, when The Ed Sullivan
Show needed a last-minute replacement for another act. This live,
weekly talent show, hosted by the very influential Sullivan, could
make or break a show-business career. The middle-aged, husky
Dangerfield, with his pessimistic monologue, was a contrast to the
younger, trendier comics usually seen on the Sullivan show, and this
alone gave him a novelty value. His success was assured when he told
his very first "no respect" joke: "I don't get no respect. I played
hide-and-seek, and they wouldn't even look for me”. Dangerfield would
also tell conventional jokes in his act: "I grew up in a tough
neighborhood. Tough neighborhood! Teachers would get notes from
parents saying, 'Please excuse Johnny for the next 5 to 10 years!'"
Dangerfield became the surprise hit of the show.
Finally established as a reliable stand-up comedian, he would write
thousands more of these self-deprecating jokes. Dangerfield began
headlining shows in Las Vegas and made frequent
encore appearances on The Ed Sullivan
Show. He became a regular on The Dean Martin Show and appeared on The
Tonight Show 70 times.
He bought a Manhattan nightclub in 1969 in order to remain near his
children after their mother had died. "Dangerfield's" was the venue
for an HBO show which helped popularize many stand-up comics, including
Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Tim
Roseanne Barr, Jeff Foxworthy,
Sam Kinison, Rita Rudner, Andrew Dice Clay and
Rodney Dangerfield's comedy album No Respect.
His comedy album No Respect won a Grammy Award. One of his TV specials
featured a musical number, "Rappin' Rodney”, which soon became one of
the first MTV music videos.
His career peaked during the early 1980s, when he became a movie star.
His appearance in Caddyshack led to starring roles in Easy Money and
Back To School. In Back to School, Dangerfield's writing described the
character Lou (Burt Young) as "nice and tough" — he put one son through
college and another through a wall. (On The Tonight Show, he applied
this same description to his doctor, Dr. Vinny Boombotz.)
He played an abusive father in Natural Born Killers in a scene where he
wrote his own lines.
In 1994, Rodney Dangerfield won an American Comedy Award for lifetime
creative achievement. He was also recognized by the Smithsonian
Institution, which put one of his trademark white shirts and red ties on
display. When asked about the honor, he joked that the museum was using
his shirt to clean Charles Lindbergh's plane.
He was married to Joyce Indig with whom he had a son named Brian and a
daughter named Melanie. From 1993 to his death he was married to Joan
Child, who was instrumental in setting up his Internet site.
The confusion of Dangerfield's stage persona with his real-life
personality was a conception that he long resented. While Child
described him as "classy, gentlemanly, sensitive and intelligent" (yet
he can make his eyes go big and small within seconds) , people who
met the comedian nonetheless treated him as the belligerent loser whose
character he adopted in performance. In 2004, Dangerfield's
autobiography, It's Not Easy Bein' Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but
Plenty of Sex and Drugs (ISBN 0-06-621107-7) was published. The book's
original title was My Love Affair With Marijuana, a reference to the
drug he smoked daily for 60 years.
In 1995, his application for membership in the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences was rejected. At the time, he commented on how
then-president of AMPAS, Roddy McDowall, who acted in a monkey suit in
the Planet of the Apes series of films, possibly felt that Dangerfield
was not dignified enough to join the organization. AMPAS would later
offer membership, an offer he declined.
Dangerfield lived in his later years under his legal name "Jack Roy”,
which he used in some of his skits, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan,
where he raised his two children. The family owned at least one dog,
which father or daughter (or both) walked regularly. Despite living
inside a metropolitan city, Dangerfield was not a noticeable figure. He
was said to have liked strolling to the New York Health and Racquet Club
in his robe and he always had a touring bus (a rental) readily parked
outside his apartment building.
Chris Rock once remarked that he was in Catch A Rising Star one night
when "Rodney showed up in his robe“. Rock said, "He must have lived down
the block" — Dangerfield's was less than a mile from home, a place he
could be found most anytime he wasn't touring. Despite his stage
persona, he was generally well-respected in his daily life, very private
and secluded, but polite if engaged.
Later years and death
On April 8, 2003, Dangerfield underwent brain surgery to improve blood
flow in preparation for heart valve-replacement surgery on August 24,
2004. Upon entering the hospital, he uttered another one-liner of the
type for which he was known: When asked how long he would be
hospitalized, he said, "If all goes well, about a week. If not, about an
In September 2004, it was revealed that Dangerfield had been in a coma
for several weeks. Afterward, he began breathing on his own and showing
signs of awareness when visited by friends. However, on October 5, 2004,
he died at the UCLA Medical Center, where he had undergone the surgery
in August. He was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park
Cemetery in Los Angeles. In keeping with his "No Respect" persona, his
headstone reads simply, "Rodney Dangerfield - There goes the
Joan Child held an event in which the word "Respect" had been emblazoned
in the sky, while each guest was given a live Monarch butterfly for a
Native American butterfly-release ceremony led by Farrah Fawcett.
UCLA's Division of Neurosurgery has named a suite of operating rooms
after him and given him the "Rodney Respect Award" which his wife
presented to Jay Leno on October 20, 2005, on behalf of the David Geffen
School of Medicine/Division of Neurosurgery at UCLA at their 2005
Comedy Central aired a special titled Legends: Rodney Dangerfield on
September 10, 2006, which commemorated his life and legacy. Featured
comedians included Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Jay Leno, Ray Romano,
Roseanne Barr, Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Saget, Jerry Stiller, Kevin Kline and
Northern Irish rock band The Dangerfields are named in tribute to him.
Impressed by Dangerfield's role in Caddyshack, Europet's design manager
Allen Shuemaker brought forth the idea of creating a line of animal chew
toys modeled after the comedian. The line had a short run in 1989 and,
in recent years, have become highly desirable by a small group of
In 2007 it was reported that a Rodney Dangerfield tattoo is among the
most popular celebrity tattoos in the United States, generally by people
in their late 20s or early 30s who got the tattoo in the 1990s.
References in pop culture
* The bipedal, talking shark from Hanna-Barbara's cartoon Jabberjaw
(voiced by Frank Welker) is the combined characters of Curly from The
Three Stooges, as evident by his persona and voice; and Rodney
Dangerfield, frequently using his famous catch phrase, "I don't get no
* In November 1996, he appeared on The Simpsons episode "Burns, Baby
Burns" as Mr. Burns' long-lost, illegitimate son Larry. The character
was modeled on Dangerfield himself, right down to his tie tug and the
line, "I don't get no regard -- and no esteem, neither”.
* He had a famous falling out with former Howard Stern Show writer
Jackie Martling over a loan Rodney made to him the in late 1970s. Jackie
claimed that he paid Rodney back in jokes and that the debt was settled.
* On The George Lopez Show episode "George is Lie-Able For Benny's
Unhappiness", George makes a comment about his friend's mother's large
bra: "They're so big they still got snow on 'em in the summer time”.
George's mother overhears him and George explains by saying "What!? I
heard it off a guy on TV that don't get no respect", an obvious
reference to Dangerfield's catchphrase.
* On Adam Sandler's film Little Nicky, Dangerfield plays the first devil
ever, Lucifer. When Nicky's brother claims the throne, he throws Lucifer
(who is Nicky's, Adrian's, and Cassius' grandfather) out of his way.
While Dangerfield is lying on the ground, he says "Even in Hell I don't
get no respect”.
* "Rock It Like This" by Run DMC includes the lyric "I'm not Rodney
Dangerfield, so give me respect".
* In the Disney movie Aladdin, the Genie takes on the form of Rodney
when delivering the line, "I can't believe it; I'm losin' to a rug!".
* T.I. dissed Ludacris in a song with Young Buck called "Stomp." His
lyrics were: "All you get is Rodney Dangerfield: no respect".
* Rodney was portrayed in Celebrity Deathmatch, defeating Rob Schneider
in one episode and Don Rickles in another.
* Rodney appeared in the Sum 41 music video for the song "In Too Deep"
* In episode 4.12 of the NBC sitcom The Office, Michael Scott performs a
Rodney Dangerfield impersonation.
* At the end of The Onion Movie Rodney says, "Hey everybody, we're all
gonna get laid". This is a reference to the 1980 movie Caddyshack, where
Rodney's character Al Czervik says the same line.
* The Projectionist (1971)
* Caddyshack (1980)
* Easy Money (1983) (also writer)
* Back to School (1986) (also writer)
* Moving (1988) (Cameo)
* Rover Dangerfield (1991) (voice) (also writer and producer)
* Ladybugs (1992)
* Natural Born Killers (1994)
* Casper (1995) (cameo)
* Meet Wally Sparks (1997) (also writer and producer)
* Rusty: A Dog's Tale (1998) (voice)
* The Godson (1998)
* Pirates: 3D Show (1999) (short subject)
* My 5 Wives (2000) (also writer and producer)
* Little Nicky (2000)
* Back by Midnight (2002) (also writer)
* The 4th Tenor (2002) (also writer)
* Three 'S' a Crowd (2005)
* Angels with Angles (2005)
* The Onion Movie (2008)
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