10 Things You Might Not Have Known About Rodney Dangerfield

Rodney Dangerfield was one of the most distinctive, enduring figures in the field of stand-up comedy. A performer since his youth, he didn’t break through as a major comedian until middle age, first becoming a mainstay of the US talk show circuit, then becoming a major movie star in the 1980s. Here are some facts you might not have known about the iconic funnyman, who would have been 100 this year.


10. His legal name was Jack Roy

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Like a lot of showbiz figures, Rodney Dangerfield was not born with his professional handle. Born November 22nd 1921, his parents named him Jacob Rodney Cohen, but at age 19 he had his name legally changed – not to Rodney Dangerfield, but to Jack Roy.

Dangerfield started using the name Jack Roy (inspired by his vaudevillian father’s stage name, Phil Roy) in his early career as a joke writer and performer. Although it was not the name that he became famous with, Jack Roy remained his legal name for the rest of his life.

9. He made his film debut as an extra in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing

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Dangerfield would go on to appear in a number of hit comedy films, but he made his screen debut in an early film from one of the most acclaimed directors of the 20th century: Stanley Kubrick.

The comedian appears as an onlooker – in a background artist role, without credit – in Kubrick’s 1956 crime thriller The Killing. (He’s on the far left in the image above.)

8. He almost gave up performing to sell aluminium siding

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Although he would go on to huge success later in life, Dangerfield’s career did not take off for a long time. After pursuing comedy from his mid-teens, his financial struggles were so great he was forced to abandon his career in the mid-1950s.

In order to support his family, Dangerfield – then still known professionally as Jack Roy – spent a number of years working as an aluminium siding salesman.

7. He finally became a star thanks to The Ed Sullivan Show

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After adopting the stage name Rodney Dangerfield in the early 60s, the comedian’s fortunes finally began to turn. However, his career didn’t really take off until March 5th, 1967, when – aged 45 – he booked a last-minute appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show after the scheduled guest fell through.

Ed Sullivan was the best-loved talk show host of the time, and his show had helped launch the careers of numerous major acts including Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Richard Pryor, Joan Rivers and The Muppets.

6. He took his catchphrase “I don’t get no respect” from a gangster

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One of Dangerfield’s most frequently repeated lines was “I don’t get no respect.” A key part of his routine was playing the downtrodden, ageing schlub who is frequently belittled by his wife, his kids and the world in general. Dangerfield would eventually publish a book entitled I Don’t Get No Respect, in addition to calling his 1980 comedy album No Respect.

The comic had been inspired to use this line after overhearing it uttered in sincerity by a small-time Mafia associate, who was complaining about how young people regarded him.

5. He got his first major movie role aged 59

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Dangerfield’s career trajectory challenges old notions about showbiz being a young man’s game. On top of breaking big in his mid-40s, Dangerfield was pushing 60 when he got his first leading role in a movie: 1980 comedy Caddyshack, in which he co-starred with two of the biggest young comedy stars of the era, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray.

Although Caddyshack wasn’t a huge hit on release, it soon became a cult favourite, and launched Dangerfield as a big screen star. He would follow it with lead roles in Easy Money, Back to School and more.

4. He helped launch Jim Carrey’s career

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At the height of his own popularity, Dangerfield had a key role to play in helping a future comedy superstar get ahead in the business: a certain Jim Carrey, who started out as a stand-up comic and impressionist before breaking big in the movies in the mid-90s.

Impressed by the young Canadian comic, Dangerfield hired Carrey to be his opening act during his Las Vegas residency in the mid-80s, and the two remained friends in the years that followed.

3. He re-wrote most of his lines in Natural Born Killers

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While most of his film roles were fairly light-hearted, Dangerfield took on some far riskier material when he appeared in Natural Born Killers, director Oliver Stone’s controversial 1994 crime thriller starring Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis.

Dangerfield played a small but key role as the abusive father of Lewis’ Mallory, and he personally rewrote most of his dialogue.

2. He voiced Mr Burns’ son on The Simpsons

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With his distinctive tones, Dangerfield was a sought-after voice actor. He lent his vocal talents to a number of animated projects, including his own feature-length family film Rover Dangerfield – but by far his most celebrated voice acting role came in a 1996 episode of The Simpsons.

Dangerfield appeared in the episode Burns, Baby Burns as Larry Burns, the long-lost son of Springfield’s wealthy tyrant Mr Burns. Unsurprisingly, Dangerfield’s character was a very thinly veiled play on his usual comedy persona.

1. His gravestone reads ‘There goes the neighbourhood’

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Credit: Alan Light via Wikimedia Commons

Rodney Dangerfield passed away on October 5th 2004 aged 82, not long after undergoing heart surgery. His widow Joan Dangerfield chose a fittingly comedic epitaph: the words ‘There goes the neighbourhood’ are engraved on his headstone.

This line came from one of Dangerfield’s routines: “I tell ya I get no respect from anyone. I bought a cemetery plot. The guy said, ‘There goes the neighborhood!'”