Rodney 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.
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. Some of Dangerfield's material was unabashedly silly, but with his stop-watch delivery, it hardly mattered. "I used to date a girl from Buffalo," he'd announce. "Why can't I meet a girl with normal parents?" He would inform his audience, "I asked my wife 'is there somebody else?'" She said, 'there MUST be.'" Invariably the butt of his own jokes, the disrespect began with his parents almost at birth, continued through schoolyard taunting by classmates, followed by failure in the dating scene, right up to his insulting wife. Audiences didn't necessarily believe his material, but laughed heartily at it.
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 Allen, Roseanne Barr, Jeff Foxworthy, Sam Kinison, Rita Rudner, Andrew Dice Clay and Bob Saget.
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.)
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.
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, 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.
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 neighborhood.”
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.
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 Jeff Foxworthy.
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 collectors.