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Rodney Dangerfield

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Rodney Dangerfield
Dangerfield in 1972
Birth nameJacob 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.
Resting placePierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary
Years active
  • Joyce Indig
    (m. 1951; div. 1961)
  • (m. 1963; div. 1970)
  • Joan Child
    (m. 1993)

Jack Roy (born Jacob Cohen; November 22, 1921 – October 5, 2004), better known by the pseudonym Rodney Dangerfield, was an American stand-up comedian, actor, screenwriter, and producer. 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 at the Fantasy Lounge in New York City. His act grew in popularity 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 additional 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.[3]

Early life[edit]

Rodney Dangerfield was born Jacob Cohen[4] in the Village of Babylon, New York, on November 22, 1921.[5] 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 Hungary.[6] Phillip Cohen was rarely home; his son normally saw him only twice a year. Late in life, Cohen begged for, and received, his son's forgiveness.[7]

Cohen's mother was reportedly emotionally distant for most of his childhood and did not show signs of affection towards her son.[8] In an interview with Howard Stern on May 25, 2004, Dangerfield told Stern that he had been molested by a man in his neighborhood. The man would pay Rodney a nickel and kiss him for five minutes.[9]

After Cohen's father abandoned the family, his mother moved him and his sister to Kew Gardens, Queens, where Dangerfield attended Richmond Hill High School, graduating in 1939. To support himself and his family, he delivered groceries and sold newspapers and ice cream at the beach.[7]


Early career[edit]

At the age of 15, he began to write for stand-up comedians while performing at the Nevele, a former resort in Ellenville, New York.[10] Then, at the age of 19 he legally changed his name to Jack Roy.[11][12] 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.[13][14] He later quipped he was so little known that when he gave up show business that "I was the only one who knew I quit."[15]

In the early 1960s, he started reviving his career as an entertainer. Still working as a salesman by day, he returned to the stage, performing at 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. He later joked, "I played one club; it was so far out, my act was reviewed in Field & Stream."[16]

Dangerfield 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.

Roy took the name Rodney Dangerfield from an episode by Jack Benny on his radio program in a 1941 broadcast.[17] The name was referenced as an actor who Jack had invited to his upcoming Christmas Party, but Mary Livingstone had never heard of him. The name surfaces again in the December 15, 1946, episode as a "movie star" on Jack's Christmas Card list.[18] The name was also used by Ricky Nelson in a 1962 television episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, as a phony name for a blind date.[19]

Career surge[edit]

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."[5]
  • "I went to the fights last night, and a hockey game broke out."

Dangerfield reached national prominence appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in March 1967.[20] He soon began headlining shows in Las Vegas and continued making frequent appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show.[21] He also became a regular on The Dean Martin Show and appeared on The Tonight Show more than 70 times.[22]

In 1969, Dangerfield teamed up with longtime friend Anthony Bevacqua to build the Dangerfield's comedy club in New York City, a venue where he could perform on a regular basis without having to constantly travel. The club remained in continuous operation until October 14, 2020. Dangerfield's was the venue for several HBO comedy specials starring such stand-up comics as 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]

In 1978, Dangerfield was invited to be the keynote speaker at Harvard University's Class Day, an annual ceremony for seniors the day before commencement.[23]

Dangerfield's 1980 comedy album No Respect

His 1980 comedy album No Respect won a Grammy Award.[24] One of his TV specials featured a musical number, "Rappin' Rodney", which appeared 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.[25] 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 wherein 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[edit]

Though his acting career had begun much earlier in obscure movies like The Projectionist (1971),[10] Dangerfield's career took off 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.[26] Initial reviews of Caddyshack praised Dangerfield's standout performance among the wild cast.[27] 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, confident and generally popular despite being characteristically 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 endings of Billy Joel's music video of "Tell Her About It" and Lionel Richie's video of "Dancing on the Ceiling".[28]

Dangerfield in 1978

In 1990, Dangerfield was involved in Where's Rodney?, an unsold TV pilot for NBC. The show starred Jared Rushton as a teenager, also named Rodney, who could summon Dangerfield whenever he needed guidance about his life.[29][30]

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.[31]

Dangerfield was rejected for membership in the Motion Picture Academy in 1995 by the head of the academy's Actors Section, Roddy McDowall. After fan protests, the academy reconsidered, but Dangerfield then refused to accept membership.[32]

In March 1995, Dangerfield was the first celebrity to personally own a website and create content for it.[33] He interacted with fans who visited his site via an "E-mail me" link, often surprising people with a reply.[34] 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".[35]

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

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

Dangerfield was recognized by the Smithsonian Institution, which has displayed one of his trademark white shirts and red ties. 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."[36]

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 toured together for about two more years.[37] When Dangerfield celebrated his 80th birthday on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in November 2001, Carrey made a surprise appearance to thank Dangerfield for his years of support.

Personal life[edit]

Dangerfield was married twice to Joyce Indig, a singer. They married on October 3, 1951, divorced in 1961, remarried in 1963, and divorced again in 1970, although Rodney lived largely separated from his family.[38] 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, whom he met in 1983 at a flower shop she owned in Santa Monica, California.[39][40]

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, whom Dangerfield called "the funniest man in the world";[41] Ancis was also a friend of and major influence on Lenny Bruce.[42] Ancis, who Roseanne Barr described as "too psychologically damaged to be able to live in a germ-infested world on his own", lived with Dangerfield until Ancis's death in 2001.[40][43][44]

Dangerfield resented being confused with his on-stage persona. Although his wife Joan described him as "classy, gentlemanly, sensitive and intelligent,"[45] 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. In this work, he also discussed being a marijuana smoker; the book's original title was My Love Affair with Marijuana.[46]

Although Jewish, Dangerfield referred to himself as an atheist during an interview with Howard Stern on May 25, 2004, about four months before his death. Dangerfield added during the interview that he was a "logical" atheist, adding: "We're gorillas - does a gorilla come back?" In the same interview, he lamented that he "suffered greatly for being a perfectionist"; he also said "My mother never hugged me, kissed me, nothing, okay? Other kids would go to sleep listening to a fairy tale. I went to sleep with a fight downstairs, listening to a guy yelling 'Enough! Enough!'"[47]

Later years and death[edit]

Dangerfield's headstone at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary

On November 22, 2001 (his 80th birthday), Dangerfield suffered a mild stroke while doing stand-up on The Tonight Show. While Dangerfield was performing, host Jay Leno noticed something was wrong with Dangerfield's movements and asked his producer to call the paramedics.[48] During Dangerfield's hospital stay, the staff were reportedly upset that he smoked marijuana in his room.[49] Dangerfield returned to the Tonight Show a year later, performing on his 81st birthday.[49]

On April 8, 2003, Dangerfield underwent brain surgery to improve blood flow in preparation for heart valve-replacement surgery on a later date.[50] The heart surgery took place on August 24, 2004.[51] Upon entering the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center, 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."[52]

Dangerfield died on October 5, 2004. He was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. On the day of Dangerfield's death, the randomly selected Joke of the Day on his website happened to be "I tell ya I get no respect from anyone. I bought a cemetery plot. The guy said, 'There goes the neighborhood!'" This led his wife, Joan Dangerfield, to choose "There goes the neighborhood" as the epitaph on his headstone, which has become so well known that it has been used as a New York Times crossword puzzle clue.[53][54]

Dangerfield's widow 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.[55]


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.[56] Other recipients of the "Rodney Respect Award" include Tim Allen (2007),[57] Jim Carrey (2009), Louie Anderson (2010),[58] Bob Saget (2011), Chelsea Handler (2012),[59] Chuck Lorre (2013),[60] Kelsey Grammer (2014),[61] Brad Garrett (2015),[62] Jon Lovitz (2016),[63] Jamie Masada (2019),[64] Jimmy Fallon (2021),[65] and Whitney Cummings (2022).[66]

In memoriam, 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!"[67] 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.[68]

In 2007, a Rodney Dangerfield tattoo was among the most popular celebrity tattoos in the United States.[69]

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 sidekick—in this case, guitar player Kevin Eubanks—sets up the joke by asking just how bad that something is.[70]

The official Rodney Dangerfield website was nominated for a Webby Award after it was relaunched by his widow, Joan Dangerfield, on what would have been his 92nd birthday, November 22, 2013.[71] Since then, Dangerfield has been honored with two additional Webby Award nominations and one win.[72][73]

In 2014, Dangerfield was awarded an honorary doctorate posthumously from Manhattanville College, officially deeming him Dr. Dangerfield.[74]

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.[75][76]

In August 2017, a plaque honoring Dangerfield was installed in Kew Gardens, his old Queens neighborhood.[77]

In 2019, an inscription was made to the "Wall of Life" at Hebrew University's Mt. Scopus Campus that reads "Joan and Rodney Dangerfield."[78]



Title Year Credited as Notes Ref(s)
Actor Producer Writer Role(s)
The Killing 1956 Uncredited Onlooker [79]
The Projectionist 1971 Yes Renaldi / The Bat [80]
Caddyshack 1980 Yes Uncredited Al Czervik Additional dialogue (uncredited) [81]
Easy Money 1983 Yes Yes Monty Capuletti
Back to School 1986 Yes Yes Thornton Melon
Moving 1988 Uncredited Loan Broker
Rover Dangerfield 1991 Yes Yes Yes Rover Dangerfield Voice, Songs: Music and Lyrics by, Executive Producer, Based on an idea by, Screenplay, Story developed by
Ladybugs 1992 Yes Chester Lee
Natural Born Killers 1994 Yes Uncredited Ed Wilson, Mallory's Dad Additional dialogue (uncredited) [82]
Casper 1995 Yes Himself
Meet Wally Sparks 1997 Yes Yes Yes Wally Sparks
Casper: A Spirited Beginning 1997 Yes Mayor Johnny Hunt
The Godson 1998 Yes The Rodfather
Rusty: A Dog's Tale 1998 Yes Bandit the Rabbit Voice
Pirates: 3D Show 1999 Uncredited Crewman Below Deck
My 5 Wives 2000 Yes Yes Yes Monte Peterson
Little Nicky 2000 Yes Lucifer
The 4th Tenor 2002 Yes Yes Lupo
Back by Midnight 2005 Yes Yes Jake Puloski Posthumous release; filmed in 2002
Angels with Angles 2005 Yes God Posthumous release; filmed in 2002
The Onion Movie 2008 Yes Rodney Dangerfield Posthumous release; filmed in 2003; Final film role


Title Year Credited as Notes Ref(s)
Actor Producer Writer Role(s)
The Ed Sullivan Show 1967–1971 Yes Himself 17 appearances [20]
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson 1969–1992 Yes Himself More than 70 appearances [22]
The Dean Martin Show 1972–1973 Yes Uncredited Himself Regular performer [83]
On Location: Rodney Dangerfield 1976 Yes Yes Himself
Benny and Barney: Las Vegas Undercover 1977 Yes Manager
The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour 1978 Yes Himself 5-minute stand-up act
Saturday Night Live 1979, 1980, 1996 Yes Himself Cameo in '79 & '96, Host in '80
The Rodney Dangerfield Show: It's Not Easy Bein' Me 1982 Yes Yes Himself / Various
Rodney Dangerfield: I Can't Take It No More 1983 Yes Yes Himself / Various
Rodney Dangerfield: Exposed 1985 Yes Yes Himself / Various
Rodney Dangerfield: It's Not Easy Bein' Me 1986 Yes Yes Himself
Rodney Dangerfield: Nothin' Goes Right 1988 Yes Yes Himself
Where's Rodney 1990 Yes Himself Unsold pilot
The Earth Day Special 1990 Yes Dr. Vinny Boombatz
Rodney Dangerfield's The Really Big Show 1991 Yes Yes Himself
Rodney Dangerfield: It's Lonely at the Top 1992 Yes Uncredited Yes Himself
In Living Color 1993 Yes Himself Season 4, Episode 18
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno 1995–2004 Yes Himself Frequent guest
The Simpsons 1996 Yes Larry Burns Voice of Mr. Burns's son, Larry Burns in the episode "Burns, Baby Burns"
Suddenly Susan 1996 Yes Artie Plays Artie – an appliance repairman who dies while fixing Susan's oven
Home Improvement 1997 Yes Himself
Rodney Dangerfield's 75th Birthday Toast 1997 Yes Uncredited Yes Himself
Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist 1997 Yes Himself Voiced himself in the episode "Day Planner"
Mad TV 1997 Yes Himself Season 2, Episode 12
The Electric Piper 2003 Yes Rat-A-Tat-Tat Voice
Phil of the Future 2004 Yes Max the Dog Voice of Max the Dog in episode "Doggie Daycare"
Still Standing 2004 Yes Ed Bailey Season 3, Episode 2
Rodney 2004 Yes Himself Episode aired shortly after his death
George Lopez 2004 Yes Leave it to Lopez – Life insurance agent – Episode dedicated to his memory



Title Year
The Loser / What's In A Name (reissue) 1966 / 1977
I Don't Get No Respect 1970
No Respect 1980
Rappin' Rodney 1983
La Contessa 1995
Romeo Rodney 2005
Greatest Bits 2008

Compilation albums[edit]

Title Year Notes
20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection: The Best of Rodney Dangerfield 2005


  • I Couldn't Stand My Wife's Cooking, So I Opened a Restaurant (Jonathan David Publishers, 1972) ISBN 0-8246-0144-0
  • I Don't Get No Respect (PSS Adult, 1973) ISBN 0-8431-0193-8
  • No Respect (Perennial, 1995) ISBN 0-06-095117-6
  • It's Not Easy Bein' Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs (HarperEntertainment, 2004) ISBN 0-06-621107-7

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Work Result Ref.
1981 Grammy Award Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording No Respect Won
1981 UCLA Jack Benny Award Outstanding Contribution in the Field of Entertainment Won
1985 Grammy Award Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording Rappin' Rodney Nominated
1987 Grammy Award Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording "Twist and Shout" Nominated
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
1991 AGVA Award Male Comedy Star of the Year Won
1995 American Comedy Award Creative Achievement Award Won
2002 Hollywood Walk of Fame Won
2003 Commie Award Lifetime Achievement Award Won
2014 Webby Award Celebrity Website Rodney.com Nominated
2018 Webby Award Celebrity Social Nominated
2019 Webby Award People's Voice: Event Website Rodney Respect Award Won


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