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November 22: Rodney Dangerfield (1921)

Rodney Dangerfield

Rodney Dangerfield

It was on this date, November 22, 1921, the American comedian Rodney Dangerfield was born Jacob Rodney Cohen to Jewish parents. Quipped Rodney, “When I was born I was so ugly the doctor slapped my mother. … I was so ugly my mother used to feed me with a sling shot. … When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them.” Described by the LA Times as “the google-eyed comic famed for his self-deprecating one-liners and signature phrase ‘I can't get no respect,’” he performed in the beginning as “Jack Roy” until he took the name “Rodney Dangerfield” from a cowboy star character created by Jack Benny for his radio program. Dangerfield actually had two careers, first from 1940–1949 – as Rodney would later joke, “I played one club... it was so far out, my act was reviewed in Field & Stream” – which was interrupted by marriage and a “real” job, then a return to stand-up comedy following his divorce in 1961.

I haven’t spoken to my wife in years. I didn't want to interrupt her. … My wife’s jealousy is getting ridiculous. The other day she looked at my calendar and wanted to know who May was. … My wife was afraid of the dark—then she saw me naked and now she’s afraid of the light. … It’s tough to stay married. My wife kisses the dog on the lips, yet she won’t drink from my glass. … My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.

He eventually became a headliner in Las Vegas and made frequent appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show and The Tonight Show. At the peak of his career in the 1980s, Dangerfield’s comedy album “No Respect” won a Grammy Award in 1980 and he appeared in several films: Caddyshack (1980), Easy Money (1983) and Back To School (1986). He influenced many younger comedians, such as Robert Klein, Bob Saget and Chris Rock, and, after watching him perform at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles in the 1980s, mentored an up-and-comer named Jim Carrey. The year he appeared as a sexually abusive father in the Oliver Stone crime-action film Natural Born Killers, 1994, Dangerfield was awarded the Lifetime Creative Achievement Award. He also achieved a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

A girl phoned me the other day and said, “Come on over. There’s nobody home.” I went over. Nobody was home. … I tell ya, I get no respect from anyone. I bought a cemetery plot. The guy said, “There goes the neighborhood!”

Less than three months before his death on 5 October 2004, Rodney Dangerfield admitted to radio host Howard Stern (25 May 2004) that he had been an atheist for a long time. Stern asked Dangerfield if he believed in an afterlife. Dangerfield replied that he is a “logical” atheist and added, “We’re apes––do apes go anyplace?” “So there’s no heaven?” Stern pressed, “Judaism for you never mattered?” “Nope. Never mattered. All religion never mattered. Atheist all the way. That’s it,” said Dangerfield. “That’s it? No god?” To which Dangerfield answered, “No.” At his secular funeral, arranged by Joan Child, his wife since 1993, it was observed “The common thread of the poignant eulogies emphasized how kind Rodney was to his fellow man, and the generosity he showed friends and fellow comedians.” Though he died, age 82, without religion, at Rodney Dangerfield’s funeral – which was attended by Saget, Rock, Tim Allen, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, George Lopez, Jon Lovitz, singer Michael Bolton and others – actress Farrah Fawcett led a ceremonial Native American butterfly release.

Ronald Bruce Meyer

Our Fearless Leader.

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March 28: Maxim Gorky

"Paradise is one of the crass fictions invented by high-priests and fathers of the Church, a fiction whose purpose is to requite the hellish torments of people on earth with the soap-bubble of a hope of peace in another place."

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