Rodney Dangerfield

On this date in 1921, Rodney Dangerfield (né Jacob Rodney Cohen) was born in Babylon, Long Island, N.Y., to Jewish parents. His father was largely absent from the home. Dangerfield began performing comedy when he was 17, paving the way for his stand-up routines in the Borscht Belt in upstate New York at age 19, when he changed his legal name to Jack Roy. (His father had performed vaudeville as Phil Roy.) He married singer Joyce Indig in 1949 and they had two children. Wanting a different life than what their level of show business provided, they settled in Englewood, N.J., to raise their two children. He worked at various jobs, including selling paint and aluminum siding.

They divorced in 1962, remarried a year later and divorced again. At age 42 he started rehabilitating his comedy act, taking the Dangerfield stage name, with his big break in 1967 as a last-minute replacement on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He appeared on the Sullivan show seven times and over  70 times on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson as he honed his act with its deprecating one-liners, in particular his catchphrase “I get no respect.”

He stopped touring in 1969 to operate the comedy club Dangerfield’s, while raising his children after his ex-wife died. He later headlined shows in Las Vegas and landed roles in the films “Caddyshack” (1980), “Easy Money” (1983), “Back To School” (1986), “Natural Born Killers” (1994) and others. He won a 1981 Grammy Award for his album “No Respect” and received comedy achievement and creative awards in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 1993 he married Joan Child, a flower importer. His 2004 autobiography was titled It’s Not Easy Bein’ Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs.

He called himself an atheist during a May 2004 interview with Howard Stern, adding that he was a “logical” atheist. He died several months later at age 82 at the UCLA Medical Center of complications after heart surgery and spending several weeks in a coma. His headstone reads “Rodney Dangerfield … There goes the neighborhood.” (D. 2004)

PHOTO: Dangerfield performing in 1972.

Freedom From Religion Foundation