Rodney Dangerfield

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Rodney Dangerfield
Rodney Danagerfield 1972-1.jpg
Dangerfield performing in 1972
Birth nameJacob Rodney Cohen
Born(1921-11-22)November 22, 1921
Babylon, New York, U.S.
DiedOctober 5, 2004(2004-10-05) (aged 82)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Medium Stand-up, film, television
NationalityUnited States
Years active
  • 1936–1949
  • 1961–2004 [1]
Genres Depression, human sexuality, aging, deadpan, self-deprecation, alcoholism
Joyce Indig
(m. 1951;div. 1961)

(m. 1963;div. 1970)

Joan Child
(m. 1993,death)
Signature Rodney Dangerfield Signature.svg

Jack Roy (born Jacob Rodney Cohen; November 22, 1921 – October 5, 2004), popularly known by the stage name Rodney Dangerfield, was an American stand-up comedian, actor, producer, screenwriter, musician and author. He was known for his self-deprecating one-liner humor, his catchphrase “I don't get no respect!” [2] and his monologues on that theme.


He began his career working as a stand-up comic in the Borscht Belt resorts of the Catskill Mountains northwest of New York City. His act grew in notoriety as he became a mainstay on late-night talk shows throughout the 1960s and 1970s, eventually developing into a headlining act on the Las Vegas casino circuit. He appeared in a few bit parts in films such as The Projectionist throughout the 1970s, but his breakout film role came in 1980 as a boorish nouveau riche golfer in the ensemble comedy Caddyshack , which was followed by two more successful films in which he starred: 1983's Easy Money and 1986's Back to School . Additional film work kept him busy through the rest of his life, mostly in comedies, but with a rare dramatic role in 1994's Natural Born Killers as an abusive father. Health troubles curtailed his output through the early 2000s before his death in 2004, following a month in a coma due to complications from heart valve surgery.

Early life

Rodney Dangerfield was born Jacob Rodney Cohen [3] in Babylon, in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York. [4] He was the son of Jewish parents Dorothy "Dotty" Teitelbaum and the vaudevillian performer Phillip Cohen, whose stage name was Phil Roy. His mother was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. [5] 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. [6]

After Cohen's father abandoned the family, his mother moved him and his sister to Kew Gardens, Queens, and he attended Richmond Hill High School, where he graduated in 1939. To support himself and his family, he delivered groceries and sold newspapers and ice cream at the beach. [6]

At the age of 15, he began to write for stand-up comedians while performing at a resort in Ellenville, New York. [7] Then, at the age of 19 he legally changed his name to Jack Roy. [8] [9] He struggled financially for nine years, at one point performing as a singing waiter until he was fired, before taking a job selling aluminum siding in the mid-1950s to support his wife and family. [10] [11] He later quipped 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." [12]


Early career

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 returned to the stage, performing at many hotels in the Catskill Mountains, but still finding minimal success. He fell into debt (about $20,000 by his own estimate), and couldn't get booked. As he later joked, "I played one clubit was so far out, my act was reviewed in Field & Stream ." [13]

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 home 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 Jack Benny on his radio program at least as early as the December 21, 1941 broadcast[ citation needed ], later as a pseudonym by Ricky Nelson on the TV program The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet , and (coincidentally) a pseudonymous singer at Camp Records, which led to rumors that Jack Roy had been signed to Camp Records (something he bewilderedly denied shortly before his death). [14] 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, [15] 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.

Career surge

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." [4]
  • "I went to the fights last night, and a hockey game broke out."

On Sunday, March 5, 1967, The Ed Sullivan Show needed a last-minute replacement for another act, [16] and Dangerfield became the surprise hit of the show.

Dangerfield began headlining shows in Las Vegas and continued making frequent appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. [17] He also became a regular on The Dean Martin Show and appeared on The Tonight Show a total of 35 times. [18] 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 Dangerfield's 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 remained in continuous operation into at least the 2000s. [19] Dangerfield's was the venue for several HBO shows which helped popularize many stand-up comics, including Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Tim Allen, Roseanne Barr, Robert Townsend, Jeff Foxworthy, Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks, Rita Rudner, Andrew Dice Clay, Louie Anderson, Dom Irrera, and Bob Saget.[ citation needed ]

Rodney Dangerfield's 1980 comedy album No Respect Album no respect.jpg
Rodney Dangerfield's 1980 comedy album No Respect

His 1980 comedy album, No Respect, won a Grammy Award. [20] One of his TV specials featured a musical number, "Rappin' Rodney", which would appear on his 1983 follow-up album, Rappin' Rodney . In December 1983, the "Rappin' Rodney" single became one of the first Hot 100 rap records, and the associated video was an early MTV hit. [21] The video featured cameo appearances by Don Novello as a last rites priest munching on Rodney's last meal of fast food in a styrofoam container and Pat Benatar as a masked executioner pulling a hangman's knot. 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.

Career peak

Though his acting career had begun much earlier in obscure movies like The Projectionist (1971), [7] 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 Caddyshack , in which he played an obnoxious nouveau riche property developer who was a guest at a golf club, where he clashed with the uptight Judge Elihu Smails (played by Ted Knight). His role was initially smaller, but because he and fellow cast members Chevy Chase and Bill Murray proved adept at improvisation, their roles were greatly expanded during filming (much to the chagrin of some of their castmates). [22] His appearance in Caddyshack led to starring roles in Easy Money and Back To School , for which he also served as co-writer. 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 Miller Lite 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 Ben Davidson 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. He also appeared in the ending of Lionel Richie's music video of "Dancing on the Ceiling". [23]

In 1990 Dangerfield was involved in an unsold TV pilot for NBC called Where's Rodney? The show starred Jared Rushton as a teenager, also named Rodney, that could summon Dangerfield whenever he needed guidance about his life. [24] [25]

In a change of pace from the comedy persona that made him famous, he played an abusive father in Natural Born Killers in a scene for which he wrote or rewrote all of his own lines. [26]

Dangerfield was rejected for membership in the Motion Picture Academy in 1995 by the head of the Academy's Actors Section, Roddy McDowall. [27] After fan protests, the Academy reconsidered, but Dangerfield then refused to accept membership.

In March 1995, Dangerfield became one of the first celebrities to personally run their own website. [28] By 1996, Dangerfield's website proved to be such a hit that he made Websight magazine's list of the "100 Most Influential People on the Web". [29]

Dangerfield appeared in an episode of The Simpsons titled "Burns, Baby Burns", in which he played a character who is essentially a parody of his own persona, Mr. Burns's son Larry Burns. He also appeared as himself in an episode of Home Improvement .

Dangerfield also appeared in the 2000 Adam Sandler film Little Nicky , playing Lucifer, the father of Satan (Harvey Keitel) and grandfather of Nicky (Sandler).

He was recognized by the Smithsonian Institution, 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 Lindbergh's plane." [30]

Dangerfield played an important role in comedian Jim Carrey's rise to stardom. In the 1980s, after watching Carrey perform at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, Rodney signed Carrey to open for Dangerfield's Las Vegas show. The two would tour together for about two more years. [31]

Personal life

Dangerfield was married twice to Joyce Indig. They married in 1951, divorced in 1961, remarried in 1963, and divorced again in 1970, although Rodney lived largely separated from his family. [32] Together, the couple had two children: son Brian Roy (born 1960) and daughter Melanie Roy-Friedman, born after her parents remarried. From 1993 until his death, Dangerfield was married to Joan Child. [33]

At the time of a People magazine article on Dangerfield in 1980, he was sharing an apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side with a housekeeper, his poodle Keno, and his closest friend of 30 years Joe Ancis, [34] who was also a friend of and major influence on Lenny Bruce. [35]

Dangerfield resented being confused with his on-stage persona. Although his wife Joan described him as "classy, gentlemanly, sensitive and intelligent," [36] he was often treated like the loser he played and documented this in his 2004 autobiography, It's Not Easy Bein' Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs ( ISBN   0-06-621107-7). In this work, published posthumously, he also discussed being a longtime marijuana smoker; the book's original title was My Love Affair with Marijuana. [37]

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. [38]

Dangerfield was a fan of the New York Mets baseball team. [39]

Later years and death

Dangerfield's headstone at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery RodneyDangerfieldGravestoneJuly2007.jpg
Dangerfield's headstone at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery

On November 22, 2001 (his 80th birthday), Dangerfield suffered a mild heart attack while backstage at the Tonight Show . During Dangerfield's hospital stay, the staff were reportedly upset that he smoked marijuana in his room. [40] Dangerfield returned to the Tonight Show a year later, performing on his 81st birthday. [40]

On April 8, 2003, Dangerfield underwent brain surgery to improve blood flow in preparation for heart valve-replacement surgery on a later date. [41] The heart surgery took place on August 24, 2004. [42] 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." [43]

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, he died on October 5, 2004 at the UCLA Medical Center, 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 Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. His headstone reads, "Rodney Dangerfield... There goes the neighborhood." [44]

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 butterfly-release ceremony led by Farrah Fawcett. [45] [ failed verification ][ clarification needed ]


UCLA’s Division of Neurosurgery named a suite of operating rooms after him and gave him the “Rodney Respect Award”, which his widow presented to Jay Leno on October 20, 2005. It was presented on behalf of the David Geffen School of Medicine/Division of Neurosurgery at UCLA at their 2005 Visionary Ball. [46] Other recipients of the “Rodney Respect Award” include Tim Allen (2007), [47] Jim Carrey (2009), Louie Anderson (2010), [48] Bob Saget (2011), and Chelsea Handler (2012). [49]

In memorium, Saturday Night Live ran a short sketch of Dangerfield (played by Darrell Hammond) at the gates of heaven. Saint Peter 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!” [50] On September 10, 2006, Comedy Central’s Legends: Rodney Dangerfield 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 Jeff Foxworthy. [51]

In 2007, a Rodney Dangerfield tattoo was among the most popular celebrity tattoos in the United States. [52]

On The Tonight Show with Jay Leno , 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 sidekickin this case, guitar player Kevin Eubanks sets up the joke by asking just how bad that something is. [53]

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. [54] [55]

In August 2017, a plaque honoring Dangerfield was installed in Kew Gardens, his old Queens neighborhood. [56]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Rodney Dangerfield among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire. [57] Also in 2019, a reprinted retrospective of the computing language Ada referred to it as remaining "...the Rodney Dangerfield of computer programming languages". [58] [58]



TitleYearCredited asNotesRef(s)
The Killing 1956UncreditedOnlooker [59]
The Projectionist 1971YesRenaldi / The Bat [60]
Caddyshack 1980YesUncreditedAl CzervikAdditional dialogue (uncredited) [61]
Easy Money 1983YesYesMonty Capuletti
Back to School 1986YesYesThornton Melon
Moving 1988UncreditedLoan Broker
Rover Dangerfield 1991YesYesYesRover DangerfieldVoice, Executive Producer, Based on an idea by, Screenplay, Story developed by
Ladybugs 1992YesChester Lee
Natural Born Killers 1994YesUncreditedEd Wilson, Mallory's DadAdditional dialogue (uncredited) [62]
Casper 1995UncreditedRodney Dangerfield
Meet Wally Sparks 1997YesYesYesWally Sparks
Casper: A Spirited Beginning 1997YesMayor Johnny Hunt
The Godson 1998YesThe Rodfather
Rusty: A Dog's Tale 1998YesBandit the RabbitVoice
Pirates: 3D Show 1999UncreditedCrewman Below Deck
My 5 Wives 2000YesYesYesMonte Peterson
Little Nicky 2000YesLucifer
The 4th Tenor 2002YesYesLupo
Back by Midnight 2005YesYesJake Puloski
Angels with Angles2005YesGod


TitleYearCredited asNotesRef(s)
The Ed Sullivan Show 1967–1971YesHimself17 appearances [16]
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 1969–1992YesHimself35 times
The Dean Martin Show 1972–1973YesUncreditedHimselfRegular performer [63]
Benny and Barney: Las Vegas Undercover1977YesManager
Saturday Night Live 1979, 1980, 1996YesHimselfCameo in '79 & '96, Host in '80
The Rodney Dangerfield Show: It's Not Easy Bein' Me1982YesYesHimself / Various
Rodney Dangerfield: I Can't Take It No More1983YesYesHimself / Various
Rodney Dangerfield: It's Not Easy Bein' Me1986YesYesHimself
Rodney Dangerfield: Nothin' Goes Right1988YesYesHimself
Where's Rodney1990YesHimselfUnsold pilot
The Earth Day Special 1990YesDr. Vinny Boombatz
Rodney Dangerfield's The Really Big Show1991YesYesHimself
Rodney Dangerfield: It's Lonely at the Top1992YesUncreditedYesHimself
In Living Color 1993YesHimselfSeason 4, Episode 18
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno 1995–2004YesHimselfFrequent guest
The Simpsons 1996Yes Larry Burns Voice of Mr. Burns's son, Larry Burns in the episode "Burns, Baby Burns"
Suddenly Susan 1996YesArtiePlays Artie - an appliance repairman who dies while fixing Susan's oven
Home Improvement 1997YesHimself
Rodney Dangerfield's 75th Birthday Toast1997YesUncreditedYesHimself
Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist 1997YesHimselfVoiced himself in the episode "Day Planner"
The Electric Piper2003YesRat-A-Tat-TatVoice
Phil of the Future 2004YesMax the DogVoice of Max the Dog in episode "Doggie Daycare"
Still Standing 2004YesEd BaileySeason 3, Episode 2
Rodney 2004YesHimselfEpisode aired shortly after his death
George Lopez 2004Leave it to Lopez - Life insurance agent - Episode dedicated to his memory



The Loser / What's In A Name (reissue)1966 / 1977
I Don't Get No Respect1970
No Respect1980#48 US
Rappin' Rodney 1983#36 US
La Contessa1995
Romeo Rodney2005
Greatest Bits2008

Compilation albums

20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Rodney Dangerfield2005


Awards and nominations

1981 Grammy Award Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording No RespectWon
1981UCLA Jack Benny AwardOutstanding Contribution in the Field of EntertainmentWon
1985 Grammy Award Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording Rappin' RodneyNominated
1987 Grammy Award Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording Twist And ShoutNominated
1987 American Comedy Award Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture (Leading Role) Back to School Nominated
1987 MTV Video Music Award Best Video from a Film "Twist and Shout" (from Back to School) Nominated
1991AGVA AwardMale Comedy Star of the YearWon
1995 American Comedy Award Creative Achievement AwardWon
2002 Hollywood Walk of Fame Won
2003 Commie Awards Lifetime Achievement AwardWon
2014 Webby Award Celebrity WebsiteRodney.comNominated
2018 Webby Award Celebrity SocialNominated
2019 Webby Award People's Voice: Event WebsiteRodney Respect AwardWon

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