Rodney Dangerfield was one of the funniest stand-up comedians in the history of the field. Rodney's wonderful movies, plus his always hilarious TV appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show, Saturday Night Live, and so many others, kept us all in stitches. His put upon, constantly harassed character who "got no respect" struck a chord with all of us.
Sadly, the hilarious comic suffered a lifelong struggle battling depression (he kept his depression a secret until the 1990's, then he was actually quite open about it). We thank Rodney for the countless laughs he gave us. Now let's take a look at the brilliantly talented and quite fascinating man.
1. Rodney was born Jacob Cohen on November 22, 1921, in Long Island, New York. As a teenager, he helped support his family by selling newspapers and ice cream on the beach, he also delivered groceries.
2. He was writing jokes by age 15. At 19, he decided to try being a stand-up comic. He took on the stage name of "Jack Roy" and performed under this name for ten years. Although he was to later become world famous as Rodney Dangerfield, Jack Roy remained his legal name for the rest of his life.
3. He performed as a stand-up comic until the 1950s. He was heavily in debt when he quit. Before he officially left show business, he worked as a singing waiter (he was fired) and a performed as an acrobatic diver.
4. Rodney spent the '50's as an aluminum siding salesman in New Jersey. He also worked as a truck driver.
5. He decided to go back in show business in the early '60's. He took on the new stage name "Rodney Dangerfield." The first recorded use of the name was on a Jack Benny radio broadcast which aired in December of 1941. Rodney Dangerfield was a cowboy character. The name "Rodney Dangerfield" was also used by Ricky Nelson as a pseudonym on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The name was suggested to Jack Roy by a nightclub owner.
6. Rodney knew he needed a character, so he took on the persona of a poor slob who kept getting kicked around by everyone. His trademark "I don't get no respect" actually came from a conversation he overheard. One night, Rodney heard a small-time older gangster talking to other gangsters about how the "young people don't give me no respect."
7. Rodney faced severe inner demons, which manifested themselves as a severe and chronic depression. He coped with his mental and spiritual pain by smoking marijuana. He smoked marijuana daily for almost 60 years.
8. When Rodney was offstage, at home, he liked to just wear a loose bathrobe- and nothing else.
9. Although he was not active in show business at the time, Rodney actually made his film debut as an uncredited "onlooker" in Stanley Kubrick's 1956 film The Killing.
10. In 1995, Rodney became the first comedian to own a website.
11. Rodney was driven to his audition for Caddyshack (1980) in a black stretch limousine. The audition took place in producer Jon Peters' office. Rodney wore a long black trench coat over a cheap leisure suit. When it was time for him to audition, he walked into Peters' office, took off his pants, and said "Let's eat!"
12. Rodney actually lost money by appearing in Caddyshack. His salary for the film was $35,000, but he claimed he lost $150,000 in Las Vegas bookings by doing the film.
13. Rodney claims he told the first-ever Viagra joke.
14. Rodney is one of the rare actors to play both God and the devil in a film. He played God in the 2005 movie Angels with Angels. Previously, in 2000, he played the role of Lucifer in the Adam Sandler film Little Nicky.
15. Rodney's famed suit, which he always did his stand-up routines in, the suit with a white shirt and a red tie, is now on permanent display in the Smithsonian Institution.
16. Rodney had his movie Meet Wally Sparks (1997) premiere in the town of Dangerfield, Texas. There is a street named after him there.
17. Rodney actually smoked marijuana in the White House. He lit up a joint while he was visiting Ronald Reagan there in 1983.
18. Rodney became a hit recording artist in 1983. His song "Rappin' Rodney" reached number 89 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
19. In his last years, Rodney wanted to clone himself. Joan Child, his second wife, still has a vial containing Rodney's blood, in case human cloning ever became a reality.
20. Joan also has a vial containing Rodney's sweat in her refrigerator. She and Rodney planned to sell it (the couple had collected lots of it in the early 2000's), so it could be sold at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The scheme never reached fruition though, the casino refused to participate in it because of insurance issues.
21. Always funny in life, Rodney was also funny after death. Rodney passed away on October 5, 2004 in Los Angeles. His tombstone reads: "There goes the neighborhood."
(Image credit: Alan Light)