- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rodney Dangerfield, the bug-eyed comic whose self-deprecating one-liners brought him stardom in clubs, television and movies and made his lament “I don’t get no respect” a catchphrase, died yesterday. He was 82.

Mr. Dangerfield, who fell into a coma after undergoing heart surgery, died at 1:20 p.m., said publicist Kevin Sasaki. Mr. Dangerfield had a heart valve replaced Aug. 25 at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center.

Mr. Sasaki said that Mr. Dangerfield suffered a small stroke after the operation and developed infectious and abdominal complications. But in the past week he had emerged from the coma, the publicist said.

“When Rodney emerged, he kissed me, squeezed my hand and smiled for his doctors,” Mr. Dangerfield’s wife, Joan, said in the statement.

The comedian also is survived by two children from a previous marriage.

As a comic, Mr. Dangerfield — clad in a black suit, red tie and white shirt with a collar that seemed too tight — convulsed audiences with lines such as “When I was born, I was so ugly that the doctor slapped my mother” and “When I started in show business, I played one club that was so far out, my act was reviewed in Field and Stream.”

In a 1986 interview, he explained the origin of his “respect” trademark.

“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.’”

He tried it at a New York club, and the joke drew a bigger response than ever. He kept the phrase in the act, and it established a bond with his audience.

Mr. Dangerfield had a strange career in show business. At 19, he started as a stand-up comedian. He made only a fair living, traveling a great deal and appearing in rundown joints. Married at 27, he decided he couldn’t support a family on his meager earnings.

He returned to comedy at 42 and began to attract notice. He appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” seven times and on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson more than 70 times.

His film breakthrough came in 1980 with “Caddyshack,” in which he held his own with such comics as Chevy Chase, Ted Knight and Bill Murray.

Despite his good reviews, Mr. Dangerfield claimed he didn’t like movies or television series: “Too much waiting around, too much memorizing. I need that immediate feedback of people laughing.”

Still, he continued starring in and sometimes writing films such as “Easy Money,” “Back to School,” “Moving,” “The Scout,” “Ladybugs” and “Meet Wally Sparks.” He turned dramatic as a sadistic father in Oliver Stone’s 1994 “Natural Born Killers.”

In 1995, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rejected Mr. Dangerfield’s application for membership. A letter from Roddy McDowall of the actors branch explained that the comedian had failed to execute “enough of the kinds of roles that allow a performer to demonstrate the mastery of his craft.”

Mr. Dangerfield played the rejection to the hilt. He had established his own Web site (“I went out and bought an Apple Computer; it had a worm in it”), and his fans used it to express their indignation. The public reaction prompted the academy to reverse itself and offer membership. Mr. Dangerfield declined.

“They don’t even apologize or nothing,” he said. “They give no respect at all — pardon the pun — to comedy.”

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