The comic who joked he "can't get no respect" dies at the UCLA Medical Center on Tuesday

By Stephen M. Silverman
October 06, 2004 08:00 AM

Rodney Dangerfield, the sad sack, goggle-eyed comic who made himself the butt of his jokes, died Tuesday at the UCLA Medical Center, where he had undergone heart valve replacement surgery on Aug. 25, spokesman Kevin Sasaki said.

The self-deprecating Dangerfield, whose signature line was “I can’t get no respect,” was 82. He is survived by children Brian and Melanie, from a first marriage to singer Joyce Indig (the couple divorced in 1962, only to remarry a year later and divorce in 1970); his second wife, Joan Child (whom he married in 1993); and thousands of such classic observations as: “Everybody today is looking for a deep, meaningful relationship. Hey, I’m looking for a shallow half-hour.”

Born Jacob Cohen in Babylon, New York, on Nov. 22, 1921, Dangerfield began writing jokes as a teenager, struggling as a comic and singing waiter at the Catskill Mountains resorts of the 1940s under the name Jack Roy. His father had been a struggling vaudeville comic, though he abandoned the family when Jacob was young. He later said – quite seriously – that his overbearing mother sent him to the psychiatrist’s couch.

He got his big break in 1967, when his routine caught on during an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Other TV appearances and Las Vegas engagements followed.

Dangerfield, who developed a devoted youth fan base, made a string of broad movie comedies starting with 1980’s Caddyshack. He generally played a loud-mouthed but lovable lout who could get no respect.

But he did get respect – and laughs. Almost to the end, Rodney (no one called him “Dangerfield,” a sign of affection if not respect) was cracking jokes. A month after undergoing brain surgery last spring, he greeted reporters at the hospital dressed in a sports shirt and Bermuda shorts and declared: “My brain is OK. I feel like a new man.”

Asked a medical question, he turned his head, popped his eye and said: “Ask me about things I’m familiar with, like drugs or prostitution.”