Every morning, Rodney Dangerfield read the obituaries. ”I know my days are numbered,” he wrote in his autobiography, It’s Not Easy Bein’ Me, earlier this year. The king of stand-up — famous for his catchphrase, ”No respect” — died Oct. 5 of complications after heart surgery in August.
”People identify with me,” he told EW in May. ”I’m not lying. Jack Benny [once] told me, ‘Your image is the best image in the history of show business. ”No respect!” Everybody feels that.”’ Dangerfield rode his stand-up triumph to a movie career, notably in 1980’s Caddyshack and 1986’s Back to School. But he struggled for four decades first — turmoil that stayed with him and molded his persona. ”It’s unusual for a guy to quit and come back when he was 40, but it’s something I had to do,” he told EW. ”I just wanted to tell jokes.” His influence is incalculable, largely because he helped launch new legends like Jim Carrey and Jerry Seinfeld. ”We all love him,” said Roseanne. ”He didn’t have to go out of his way to mentor a whole generation, but he did.” Asked in May if he had any regrets, Dangerfield cracked, ”Regrets? Plenty of regrets. I shoulda taken the Flintstones movie.”
For EW’s 2004 feature on Dangerfield, go to ew.com/Rodney.