Born Jacob Rodney Cohen on Nov. 22, 1921, beloved comedian and actor Rodney Dangerfield is best remembered for his catchphrase, “I don’t get no respect!” as well as his comic, rapid fire rants on life’s misfortunes.
Growing up in poverty in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, the star who brought raucous laughter to millions rarely saw his father and worked odd jobs to support his struggling family.
Dangerfield was a late starter on the road to stardom, taking decades to perfect his comedy routine and overcome repeated setbacks.
His career took off in the late 1960s with appearances on prime time television and performances in Las Vegas, and 1980s movies such as “Caddyshack” and “Easy Money” further developed his comic persona and made him a household name.
He died in 2004, but his legacy lives on in the comic talents that he mentored, including stars Jim Carrey, Jerry Seinfeld and Jeff Foxworthy.
While still a student at Richmond Hill High School, Dangerfield wrote material for standup comedians, and after graduation he started performing under the name Jack Roy.
He met with little success, working at times as a singing waiter and aluminum siding salesman to make ends meet. He began playing hotels in the Catskills in the early 1960s, and developed the on-stage image of the luckless schlimazel that brought him fame and distinction.
Around this time he took the stage name Rodney Dangerfield from a cowboy character on Jack Benny’s radio show.
Commenting on his early struggles to make it big, he once quipped “I played one club. It was so far out, my act was reviewed in Field & Stream.”
The unloved, unrecognized, nearly penniless funny man from Queens got his big break one night in 1967 when The Ed Sullivan Show needed a last minute stand-in for another act. Dangerfield rose to the occasion and was a big hit. Job offers soon followed and the newly minted star hit the road, performing in Las Vegas and regularly delivering side-splitting laughter to audiences on The Dean Martin Show and The Tonight Show.
Soon after, he opened Dangerfield’s, a comedy club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that later hosted HBO shows featuring up and coming comic talents Tim Allen, Jim Carrey, Louie Anderson and others.
The 1980s saw the gifted comic branch out further, opening the decade with his comedy album “No Respect” earning a Grammy Award. In 1983, his rap single “Rappin’ Rodney” earned a spot on Billboard’s Hot 100, and the video where Dangerfield dies and isn’t even allowed into heaven was an early MTV hit.
The late blooming star also became a hit on the big screen, bringing his down and out comic character to starring roles in ‘80s hits “Caddyshack,” “Easy Money” and “Back to School.” He also appeared in a memorable series of Miller Lite commercials, including a bowling tournament where the comedian’s ball merely bounces off the pins and lands haplessly in the gutter.
Later in his career, the wisecracker from Queens showed his versatility and ability to change with the times. In a step away from his comic persona, he played an abusive father in the controversial 1994 crime film Natural Born Killers, and the following year, he launched his own website (rodney.com).
Dangerfield continued to bring his timeless act to new generations of fans, appearing as himself on programs such as The Simpsons and Home Improvement.
The venerable jokester died Oct. 5, 2004, from complications following heart surgery. He is buried in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, where his epitaph reads “Rodney Dangerfield… There goes the neighborhood.”