Dangerfield--the veteran stand-up whose tie-tugging, hang-dog routine earned him star status from New York to Las Vegas to Hollywood and whose dedication to comedy helped launch the careers of a generation of stars, died Tuesday afternoon at Los Angeles' UCLA Medical Center, publicist Kevin Sasaki announced. He was 82.
Less than two months ago, at the same hospital, Dangerfield underwent heart-valve replacement. While he survived the 12-hour procedure, he was never well enough to go home, having suffered a post-operative stroke, infections and "abdominal complications," Sasaki said in a statement. In September, wife Joan Dangerfield revealed that the comic was in a "light coma."
According to Sasaki, Dangerfield had come out of the coma in the last week, due to new treatment. His wife called herself "forever grateful" for those moments.
"When Rodney emerged, he kissed me, squeezed my hand and smiled for his doctors," Joan Dangerfield said in the statement.
The heart procedure was the capper on a series of surgeries in recent years that left him, as his official Website observed, "cut up in so many places he feels like he's back in his old neighborhood."
Bad health, bad relationships, bad luck--all the hard-luck woes that make people look as bedraggled as Dangerfield appeared onstage and in film were, to him, the stuff of comedy.
"My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met," went a Dangerfield one-liner. "If it weren't for pickpockets, I'd have no sex life at all," went another.
In an age when comics tell stories and make would-be witty observations, Dangerfield, who began his show-biz career in earnest at age 40, told jokes.
The rim-shot routine worked. He headlined in Vegas and opened a comedy club in New York. He appeared on the The Ed Sullivan Show 16 times. He did the Johnny Carson Tonight Show a whopping 70 times.
In 1980, he translated his persona to film and, at nearly 60, began a run as a top comedy draw at the box office, with Caddyshack, Easy Money and Back to School.
The still-cracking Big Apple comedy club, Dangerfield's, provided early TV exposure for the likes of Jim Carrey, Jerry Seinfeld and Roseanne.
"Nobody is ever going to be that funny again," Roseanne said of Dangerfield, in a statement Wednesday. "He has all of our love, and, most of all, he has our great respect."
Born Jacob Cohen on Nov. 22, 1921, in Babylon, New York, the future Rodney Dangerfield loved comedy from an early age, but appreciated a steady paycheck. After a stint on the comedy circuit in his twenties, he gave up one-liners for a career in aluminum siding.
In the early 1960s, at the age of 40, he returned to the stage--a man with a plan. By day, he worked behind a desk. By night, he perfected a comic persona. Ed Sullivan helped make the second job a career when he invited Dangerfield on his top-rated variety show. The soon-to-be-ex siding salesman referred to the Sullivan gig as the proverbial "big break."
Once launched, Dangerfield, seemingly making up for lost time, never slowed, even as the years and health problems mounted.
In recent times, Dangerfield underwent a double-bypass, endured surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, suffered a heart attack on his 80th birthday and braved brain surgery.
Through it all, Dangerfield wrote and produced his own movies, including 2000's My 5 Wives, penned an autobiography, It's Not Easy Bein' Me, published in May, and recorded an album of love songs, Romeo Rodney, to be released next year.
In the last summer of his life, he taped an episode of CBS' Still Standing (the installment aired last week), and appeared on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live just 13 days before undergoing the heart-valve replacement.
His last major big-screen appearance came in 2000's Little Nicky, when he played Adam Sandler's devilish grandfather, Lucifer.
"I first saw Rodney perform in Florida when I was, like, 14," Sandler told E! Online in 2000. "I was sitting in the audience just saying the lines with him--every joke--because I'd memorized all his stuff. My family would always say, 'Adam loves Rodney.' So, it was fun to call my father and say, 'Hey, Rodney Dangerfield is going to be playing my grandpa.'"
In another notable role, Dangerfield went dangerously against well-meaning type in 1994's Natural Born Killers when Oliver Stone cast him as Juliette Lewis' lecherous father.
Though famous for groaning about how he couldn't "get no respect," Dangerfield had the mantel pieces to prove otherwise. He won a 1980 Grammy for his comedy album accordingly entitled No Respect. In 1994, he was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the American Comedy Awards.
"Rodney was one of the greatest that ever lived," Roseanne said Wednesday.
Survivors include wife Joan, whom he wed in 1993.
A memorial service is being planned in Los Angeles, although perhaps it's best to call the tribute one final Rodney Dangerfield show.