Despite it being Rodney Dangerfield’s birthday, the popular comedian and actor had to wait until 12 years after his death to finally get some respect.
Dangerfield, whose 95th birthday is being commemorated by way of a trending #hashtag bearing his own name, was a true slapstick comedian who redefined self-depreciating humor for a generation of performers. The star of feature films such as Caddyshack, Back to School, and Easy Money, Rodney Dangerfield battled depression and personal issues to make a name for himself that would not too easily be forgotten.
According to IMDB, Dangerfield was born Jacob Cohen in 1921 in Deer Park, New York, to Jewish parents Dorothy “Dotty” and Phillip, a vaudeville actor who performed under the name Phil Roy.
The young Cohen was initially shy and at first frequently intimidated by bullying prior to finding comedy as an outlet for his frustrations. The future Rodney Dangerfield set his first jokes to paper shortly after his 15th birthday, which Biography noted came mostly as a result of his being “frequently the focus of torment from anti-Semitic teachers, and more affluent students.”
It would be at least two years later – after his 17th birthday – before Dangerfield began performing his previously private quips before a public audience while attending amateur stand-up comedy nights.
Sometime after his 20th birthday, Cohen rechristened himself as a performer known as Jack Roy; this name, incidentally, would remain legally his for his lifetime.
As many fans of his remember, Rodney’s first real break into show business did not come until he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1948.
Over the next 50 plus years, Dangerfield would log more than 70 appearances on The Tonight Show, in addition to appearances in 32 feature films during his lifetime. Dangerfield also penned 19 movies and produced six more.
Despite accumulating these and so many other accolades, however, the name Rodney Dangerfield has become always and forever tied to one single catchphrase for which he is best known, loved, and, ironically, respected.
“I tell you, I get no respect.”
According to Wild Sound Festival Review, Dangerfield noted that the origin of this slapstick routine actually hit the comedian a little too personally. The publication recently recalled a 1986 interview with Rodney Dangerfield in which the comedian examined how this one tagline came to emerge from his unique collection of self-depreciating jokes and quips.
“I had this joke: ‘I played hide and seek; they wouldn’t even look for me.’ To make it work better, you look for something to put in front of it: ‘I was so poor, I was so dumb’, so this, so that. I thought, ‘Now what fits that joke?’ Well, ‘No one liked me’ was all right. But then I thought, ‘A more profound thing would be, ‘I get no respect!‘”
Unfortunately, the sentiment did hit a bit too close to home for Dangerfield. Years of bullying and self-esteem issues drew the parallel between “Rodney Dangerfield The Performer” and “Jack Roy The Man” very close to one another.
As such, Rodney Dangerfield struggled greatly with clinical depression during his lifetime, as Biography noted. Rodney’s struggles were also not helped when his marriage to singer Joyce Indig – one which had given him two children – ended in divorce on two separate occasions in 1962 and 1970.
Despite the tumultuous years of his life, Rodney Dangerfield adored performing for his fans, whether it be comedy or in film, and the comedian continued to actively write jokes and perform until the day of his death in 2004.
While his life and career will no doubt be remembered for the duality of making others laugh when he could hardly laugh himself, Rodney Dangerfield’s entire life could be summed up in one of his classic jokes.
“I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous – everyone hasn’t met me yet.”
[Featured Image by Kevin Winter/Getty Images]