Legendary comic Dangerfield dies at 82

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter
Subscribe | UPI Odd Newsletter

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Rodney Dangerfield, best known for his rapid-fire jokes and the signature line "I don't get no respect," died Tuesday. He was 82.

Kevin Sasaki, a publicist for the legendary comedian and actor, said Dangerfield died at the UCLA Medical Center following what Sasaki called a difficult recovery from heart-valve replacement surgery Aug. 25. Dangerfield's doctors said he suffered a small stroke after the surgery and developed infections and abdominal complications from which he did not recover.


Dangerfield had been comatose for weeks following the surgery, but regained consciousness during the past week. The comic -- who published his autobiography, "It's Not Easy Bein' Me" this year -- had undergone extracranial-intracranial brain bypass surgery in 2003 to reduce the risk associated with heart-valve replacement.

Dangerfield had suffered a mild heart attack in November 2001, and had undergone double-bypass heart surgery in 2000, followed by surgery three months later to correct another aneurysm.


Dangerfield's wife, Joan Dangerfield, issued a statement attributing the comic's coming out of the coma to an alternative "innovative Real Time EEG Neurofeedback sessions" performed by specialist Margaret Ayers. Ayers began her treatment of Dangerfield on Sept. 26.

"What Margaret was able to accomplish with Rodney was truly astounding," said Joan Dangerfield. "When Rodney emerged, he kissed me, squeezed my hand, and smiled for his doctors. To her, I will be forever grateful for giving me those moments."

The statement also expressed gratitude to Dangerfield's team of doctors at UCLA Medical Center.

Born Jacob Cohen on Nov. 22, 1921, in Babylon, Long Island, N.Y., Dangerfield was immensely popular among his fellow comedians and credited with giving many comedians -- including Jim Carrey -- their first major professional breaks.

Dangerfield told United Press International in an interview a few months before his death that helping young comics was, in part, a response to the difficulty he faced during his earliest years in show business.

"No one helped you (then)," he said, "so I thought I'd give them a break."

Dangerfield was working at a club in Toronto when he first saw Carrey.

"He was sensational, so I booked him and I brought him to Caesar's Palace," said Dangerfield. "That was his first job. He was shocked. I took him on the road with me for two years."


In recent weeks, as Dangerfield lay comatose in the hospital, he received visits from Carrey and many other younger comedians -- including Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler and Jay Leno.

"He said he never got any respect, but all the comedians loved him and they showed him a lot of respect," said long-time Hollywood publicist Lee Solters.

Dangerfield began his career in comedy when he started writing jokes at 15. At 17, he started performing at amateur nights under the name "Jack Roy."

He worked in comedy circuit for 10 years, before giving up showbiz to sell aluminum siding so he could support his young family.

When he was 40, Dangerfield set out again to make his name as a comedian, and opened his own club -- the now famous Dangerfield's in New York. The club was a success -- and paved the way for a wave of comedy clubs across the United States.

Dangerfield's HBO Young Comedians specials introduced national TV audiences to such talents as Tim Allen, Roseanne, Sam Kinison, Jeff Foxworthy and Rita Rudner.


In addition to his immense popularity as a headliner in Las Vegas, Dangerfield was also a favorite on such TV shows as "The Ed Sullivan Show" -- where he gained his first national exposure and went on to make 16 appearances. He appeared a record 70 times on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," and has appeared a record 28 times on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" -- as one of a small number of entertainers to have an open invitation to appear on the show.

As he approached his 60's, Dangerfield found new stardom in Hollywood, when he joined Chevy Chase and Bill Murray in the cast of "Caddyshack." He went on to star in such comedies as "Easy Money" and "Back to School," and received critical acclaim in Oliver Stone's media-violence satire "Natural Born Killers."

Dangerfield won a Grammy for his comedy album, "No Respect," and was the recipient of the "Lifetime Creative Achievement Award" from the 1994 American Comedy Awards. He was recently honored with the "Comedy Idol Award" by Comedy Central.

His famous trademark white shirt and red tie are on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.


Dangerfield is survived by his wife Joan, two children from a previous marriage, Brian and Melanie, and two grandchildren, Joshua and Matthew.

A memorial service was being planned in Los Angeles.


(Please send comments to [email protected].)

Latest Headlines