If ever there was a "late bloomer," it was American comedian Rodney Dangerfield. His father was a vaudeville pantomimist who was known professionally as Phil Roy, thus when Dangerfield struck out on his own stand-up comedy career at age 19 (he'd been writing jokes for other comics since 15), he called himself Jack Roy. For nine years he labored in some of the worst clubs on the East Coast, giving it all up at age 28 in order to support his new wife. Unfortunately, the marriage was an unhappy one, soon ending in divorce. In 1963 the comic returned to performing, using the name "Rodney Dangerfield" to distance himself from his miserable "Jack Roy" days. Four more years passed before Dangerfield finally got his big break on The Ed Sullivan Show, for which he'd auditioned by sneaking in during a dress rehearsal. By this time, Dangerfield had fully developed his belligerently neurotic stage persona, tugging at his tie and mopping his brow while he delineated the variety of ways in which he "don't get no respect." On top at last, Dangerfield opened his own nightclub in 1969, where many major comics of the 1970s and 1980s got their first opportunities; fiercely competitive onstage, Dangerfield is known to be more than generous to new talent offstage. In films since his turn as a nasty theatre manager in the 1970 low-budgeter The Projectionist, Dangerfield has exuded a movie image somewhat different than his paranoid nightclub character; he often plays a crude-and-rude "nouveau riche" type who delights in puncturing the pomposity of his "old money" opponents (Caddyshack). Rodney Dangerfield's best screen role was, significantly, his nicest--in Back to School (1985), he played a blunt but decent self-made millionaire who decides to join his son in getting an expensive college education.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Started writing jokes when he was 15 and began performing at 20.
- Claimed that he only saw his father for about two hours a year while growing up.
- Started his performing career as a singing waiter and comic under the name Jack Roy.
- Was 44 when he received his first big break by appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show.
- Credited the movie The Godfather with inspiring his famous quip "I don't get no respect.."
- Starred as an eccentric millionaire in the 1986 comedy Back to School.
- Played against type as an abusive father in the 1994 crime drama Natural Born Killers.
- Was the first entertainer to personally own a Web site when he launched one in 1995.
- In 1996, was awarded $1 in damages for emotional distress from a lawsuit filed against Star magazine after it printed a story regarding Dangerfield's reported drug use. Less than 10 years later he released his autobiography It's Not Easy Being Me: A Lifetime of No Respect But Plenty of Sex and Drugs.
- Is buried in Los Angeles, where his headstone reads "There Goes the Neighborhood."