Rodney Dangerfield, who built a comedy career in TV, nightclubs, records, and movies out of a single catchphrase, died Tuesday at age 82, his publicist announced. The comedian passed away at UCLA Medical Center of complications from heart surgery he underwent there in August; after the operation, he had fallen into a coma from which he emerged only briefly last week, long enough to kiss his wife and squeeze her hand, the spokesman said.
Dangerfield’s hard-luck everyman persona remained hip and current to young audiences even though he didn’t break through to fame until well into his 40s. As Jack Roy, he struggled to find success as a comic in his 20s, but he gave up show business for 12 years and sold aluminum siding. Returning to stand-up in the 1960s, he took on a new name and a new routine, with endless riffs on his signature phrase ”I don’t get no respect.” This time, he found success on TV, appearing countless times on The Ed Sullivan Show and Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Eventually, he found his way onto record, winning a Grammy for the 1980 comedy album I Don’t Get No Respect and into movies, scoring huge hits with such films as Caddyshack (1980) and Back to School (1986).
Dangerfield was known in the industry as a mentor to other comics, from Sam Kinison to Jim Carrey, providing them with venues (like his Dangerfield’s comedy club in New York) and showcases on his TV specials. ”He was like a big father figure to all of us,” Roseanne told EW recently. ”He made it his business to help young talent along, and boy, that’s something. I don’t know if anybody does that anymore.”
Even as his health failed him in recent years, Dangerfield kept busy with new projects. In May, he published a memoir, It’s Not Easy Bein’ Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs. In the months before he died, he was still doing occasional stand-up gigs, noting in an extended interview with EW that his illness had been good for merchandise sales. ”Even when I’m okay, I’ll act sick,” he said. ”More people want me dead than alive, I think.” Of the risks of his long-planned heart operation, he said, ”It’s the best way to go out: no suffering, no pain, no nothin’, right? That’s how I’d like to go.”