I've fallen and I can't get up!
The source of the line
This line was spoken in a television commercial for a medical alarm and protection company called LifeCall. The motivation behind the systems is that subscribers, mostly senior citizens as well as the disabled, would receive a pendant which, when activated, would allow the user to speak into an audio receiving device and talk directly with a dispatch service, without the need to reach a telephone. The service was designed to appeal particularly to seniors who lived alone and who might experience a medical emergency, such as a fall, which would leave them alert but immobile and unable to reach the telephone.
In 1989, LifeCall began running commercials which contained a scene wherein an elderly woman, identified by a dispatcher as "Mrs. Fletcher", uses the medical alert pendant after having fallen in the bathroom. After falling, Mrs. Fletcher speaks the phrase "I've fallen, and I can't get up!", after which the dispatcher informs her that he is sending help.
Taken at its face value, the commercial portrays a dangerous situation for a senior, with perhaps dire consequences: an elderly person suddenly incapacitated at home, unable to get help, perhaps for hours or even days.
The "I've fallen and I can't get up" ad had the double misfortune of being unintentionally campy and appearing often on cable and daytime television. The fact that the commercial was a dramatization (as clearly stated in the beginning of the commercial) using bad acting also contributed to the humor. The combination made "I've fallen... and I can't get up!" a recognized, universal punchline that applied to many comedic situations. All of these factors made the ad memorable, ensuring the line's place in pop culture history.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, after first applying in October 1990, LifeCall registered the phrase "I've fallen and I can't get up" as a trademark in September 1992 until its status was cancelled in 1999. In October 2002, the similar phrase "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up!" became a registered trademark of Life Alert Emergency Response, Inc. In June 2007, the phrase "I've fallen and I can't get up!" also became a registered trademark of Life Alert. Both phrases are currently used on their website as well as in their commercials. The phrase is made out, however, to be much less campy. It is now usually followed by a narrator who talks about the reason behind why such a situation would be serious, giving the impression that the people behind the infamous commercial never intended it to have any humor behind it and didn't want the phrase to be used in any humorous manner.
Another catchphrase which was also used by an elderly man named Mr. Miller in the same LifeCall commercial, and also humorously popularized, was "I'm having chest pains!"
Actress portraying Mrs. Fletcher
Three women have been credited with playing Mrs. Fletcher:
- Edith Fore, according to the Phoenix New Times, and Entertainment Weekly, who consider her 1997 death to be newsworthy based on her appearance in the commercial alone.
- IMDb also credits the role to both former Ziegfeld Follies dancer Dorothy McHugh, and to Bea Marcus.
It is possible different actresses were used in different markets.
Actor portraying the dispatcher
The dispatcher was portrayed by character actor Robert "Bob" Snead ("We're sending help immediately, Mrs. Fletcher."). According to IMDb Snead had a number of small television roles in shows such as Murder She Wrote and Highway to Heaven between 1987 and 1989.
One of the main characters from the Dilbert comic strip is portrayed making fun of equipment specifications by saying this line.