Rodney Dangerfield, 1921-2004: Lack of respect was comedian's calling card
By DAVID GERMAIN
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
LOS ANGELES -- Rodney Dangerfield, the bug-eyed comic whose self-deprecating one-liners brought him stardom in clubs, television and movies and made his lament "I don't get no respect" a catchphrase, died yesterday. He was 82.
Dangerfield fell into a coma after having a heart valve replaced Aug. 25 at the UCLA Medical Center. He suffered a small stroke after the operation and developed infectious and abdominal complications, publicist Kevin Sasaki said. But in the past week, he had emerged from the coma, Sasaki said.
"When Rodney emerged, he kissed me, squeezed my hand and smiled for his doctors," Dangerfield's wife, Joan, said in the statement. The comic is also survived by two children from a previous marriage.
As a comic, Dangerfield -- clad in a black suit, red tie and white shirt with collar that seemed too tight -- convulsed audiences with lines such as: "When I was born, I was so ugly that the doctor slapped my mother"; "When I started in show business, I played one club that was so far out my act was reviewed in Field and Stream"; and "Every time I get in an elevator, the operator says the same thing to me: 'Basement?' "
In 1986, he explained the origin of his "respect" trademark: "I had this joke: 'I played hide-and-seek; they wouldn't even look for me.' To make it work better, you look for something to put in front of it: I was so poor, I was so dumb, so this, so that. I thought, 'Now what fits that joke?' Well, 'No one liked me' was all right. But then I thought, a more profound thing would be, 'I get no respect.' "
He tried it at a New York club, and the joke drew a bigger response than ever. He kept the phrase in the act, and it seemed to establish a bond with his audience.
Dangerfield had a strange career in show business. At 19 he started as a stand-up comedian. He made only a fair living, traveling a great deal and appearing in run-down joints. Married at 27, he decided he couldn't support a family on his meager earnings.
He returned to comedy at 42 and began to attract notice. He appeared on the Ed Sullivan show seven times and on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson more than 70 times.
After his standout film role in "Caddyshack," he began starring in his own movies. He was born Jacob Cohen on Nov. 22, 1921, on Long Island, N.Y. Growing up in the borough of Queens, his mother was uncaring and his father was absent.
He ingratiated himself to his schoolmates by being funny; at 15 he was writing down jokes and storing them in a duffel bag. When he was 19, he adopted the name Jack Roy and tried out the jokes at a resort in the Catskills. The job paid $12 a week plus room and meals.
In New York, he drove a laundry and fish truck, taking time off to hunt for work as a comedian. The jobs came slowly, but in time he was averaging $300 a week.
He married Joyce Indig, a singer he met at a New York club. Both had wearied of the uncertainty of a performer's life. They settled in Englewood, N.J., had two children, Brian and Melanie, and he worked selling paint and siding. But the idyllic suburban life soured as the pair battled. The couple divorced in 1962, remarried a year later and again divorced.
In 1993, Dangerfield married Joan Child, a flower importer.
At age 42, he returned to show business. "It was like a need. I had to work. I had to tell jokes. I had to write them and tell them. It was like a fix. I had the habit."
His film debut came in 1971 with the low-budget "The Projectionist." He did better in 1980 with "Caddyshack," holding his own with Chevy Chase, Ted Knight and Bill Murray.
Despite his good reviews, Dangerfield claimed he didn't like movies or TV series: "Too much waiting around, too much memorizing; I need that immediate feedback of people laughing."
Still, he continued starring in and sometimes writing films such as "Easy Money," "Back to School," "Moving," "The Scout," "Ladybugs" and "Meet Wally Sparks." He turned dramatic as a sadistic father in Oliver Stone's 1994 "Natural Born Killers."
He had my respect a long time ago. May he rest in peace