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Rodney Dangerfield knew “I don’t get no respect” was funny when it cracked up New Yorkers, notorious for being tough. From there on out, the one-liner became his catchphrase — and the pudgy, bug-eyed comic became the perennial loser.
Dangerfield, 82, died Tuesday afternoon at the University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center, where he had undergone heart surgery in August, said publicist Kevin Sasaki.
After the operation, Sasaki said, the comedian suffered a small stroke and developed infectious and abdominal complications. He had been in a coma but regained consciousness in the past week.
“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.
Clad in a black suit, red tie and white shirt with collar that seemed too tight, Dangerfield brought down the house with the likes of “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 a 1986 interview, 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 is most remembered for 1980’s “Caddyshack,” in which he held his own with such comics as Chevy Chase, Ted Knight and Bill Murray.
He would later gain more film roles and the respect of fans who howled at his jokes and fellow comedians who admired his talent.
'He always had my respect'
“For a guy who got no respect, I will miss him and he always had my respect. I love him,” comedian George Lopez said Tuesday in a statement.
Flowers were placed on his star on Hollywood Boulevard after word of his death, and the marquee of The Improv, a comedy club where Dangerfield often performed, read “Rest In Peace Rodney.”
Teller, half of the magic duo “Penn & Teller,” said Dangerfield at times would appear while they were performing in Las Vegas, walking around the casino wearing a satin dressing gown and sandals with a beautiful girl on his arm.
“He was so confident,” Teller said. “He was Rodney and he could do anything.”
Comedian Adam Sandler, who starred with Dangerfield in 2000’s “Little Nicky,” said the affection felt for Dangerfield “when you saw him on TV or in the movies was doubled when you had the pleasure to meet him. He was a hero who lived up to the hype.”
Dangerfield was born Jacob Cohen on Nov. 22, 1921, on New York’s Long Island. Growing up in the borough of Queens, his mother was uncaring and his father was absent.
At 19 he started as a standup comedian. He made only a fair living, traveling a great deal and appearing in rundown joints.
At age 27, he married Joyce Indig, a singer he met at a New York club. The couple 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.
Dangerfield returned to comedy at 42.
Rodney Dangerfield is born
When he came back to show business, he took up the name Rodney Dangerfield.
Dangerfield’s bookings improved, and he landed television gigs. He appeared on the Ed Sullivan show seven times and on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson more than 70 times.
After his ex-wife died, he decided to quit touring and open a New York nightclub, Dangerfield’s, so he could stay close to home and raise his children.
After “Caddyshack,” Dangerfield 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.”
In 1995, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rejected Dangerfield’s application for membership.
It was the ultimate rejection, and Dangerfield played it to the hilt. He had established his own Web site (“I went out and bought an Apple Computer; it had a worm in it”), and his fans used it to express their indignation. The public reaction prompted the academy to reverse itself and offer membership. Dangerfield declined.
“They don’t even apologize or nothing,” he said. “They give no respect at all — pardon the pun — to comedy.”