Rodney Dangerfield, 82, the nightclub, television and movie comic who made millions laugh with his ironic, rapid-fire recollections of what he claimed were his personal humiliations and inadequacies, died yesterday in Los Angeles.
Mr. Dangerfield underwent surgery Aug. 25 to replace a heart valve. He later fell into a coma from which he emerged last week to kiss his wife and squeeze her hand, according to a statement from his publicist.
Among the keys to his comedy were constant self-deprecation, an unending barrage of often-sarcastic one-liners, and his woebegone expression, which gave credibility to his plaintive delivery.
It was all summarized in his oft-repeated catchphrase, one that became an inextricable part of his identity as an entertainer: "I don't get no respect!"
One of the jokes that embodied the theme was this:
"I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He told me I was being ridiculous -- everyone hadn't met me yet."
And: "Oh, when I was a kid in show business, I was poor. I used to go to orgies to eat the grapes."
And: "Last week I told my psychiatrist, 'I keep thinking about suicide.' He told me from now on I have to pay in advance."
Audiences laughed and laughed. It was said that he evoked laughter even from Ed Sullivan, the notably stone-faced host of one of television's earliest variety shows.
He was frequently on "Saturday Night Live" in its first years. His performance in the 1980 movie "Caddyshack" was considered a classic of comedy.
In that film, he portrayed a wealthy but clueless golfer who appeared oblivious to the obnoxiousness of many of his mannerisms. His character was nevertheless good-hearted and admirable in his willingness to challenge the country club snobbery he encountered. The part showcased Mr. Dangerfield as a form of Everyman, a role that suited him. It led to many more.
In 1980, he won a Grammy for Best Comedy Recording for "No Respect." He opened a New York comedy club that showcased many young comics who went on to fame. In 1994, he received a lifetime achievement award from the American Comedy Awards.
Over the years, his long and difficult path to fame became known, along with his psychological afflictions, to say nothing of his health problems. Students of comedy came to recognize that more than a grain of truth and of personal experience underlay Mr. Dangerfield's stories of difficulties in dealing with the world.
In fact, it was revealed that the comic, who brought laughter to millions, was himself a sufferer from depression. Although the diagnosis came late in life, Mr. Dangerfield was reported to have traced the condition to his boyhood.
The title of his recent autobiography was "It's Not Easy Bein' Me." And it did not seem to reviewers that Mr. Dangerfield was being boastful or self-important.
Of course, it seemed unlikely that many people who claimed to have an ego as feeble and fragile as his could have achieved as much. But his accounts of his failings and mistreatments helped endear him to his audiences, creating a mutual bond. Audiences enjoyed his skill at amplifying, exaggerating and fictionalizing the real insults and indignities of everyday life.
"Oh," he would say, "when I was a kid, I was poor. We were so poor, when my father died they asked my mother, 'Paper or plastic?' "
He was born on Long Island, in the town of Babylon. His original name was Jacob Cohen. His father, a vaudeville performer, was frequently absent. It was at least in part to escape from the unhappiness of childhood that Mr. Dangerfield took first to writing jokes, then to telling them.
In his twenties, he struggled for a foothold on the comedy circuit, touring under the name Jack Roy.
After his 1949 marriage to Joyce Indig, with whom he had two children, he abandoned comedy for steadier work. For a time he lived in New Jersey and sold aluminum siding.
But at 40, facing marital problems and still feeling the lure of performing, he tried for a comeback.
"I was out of show business," he said, "but show business wasn't out of me." He went back to a club where he had played as Jack Roy. Deciding to wipe the slate clean, he took on the new " no respect" role and he asked to be introduced under a new name. The master of ceremonies presented "Rodney Dangerfield." To the audience, which included people who had remembered Jack Roy, he said, "Hey, if you're going to change your name, change it."
(The club owner was asked how he had chosen the new name. "I don't know," he said. "I made it up, just like that.")
The career of Rodney Dangerfield took off. But according to an account by Jeff Pearlman in Newsday, that did not banish his psychological troubles. He brooded. He was a longtime marijuana user and attended regular sessions with a psychiatrist.
Mr. Dangerfield underwent at least two heart operations before his most recent one.
He and his first wife divorced, remarried and divorced again. In 1993, he married Joan Child, 30 years his junior. He credited her with improving his outlook.
But he did not exempt her from his ribbing. "My wife is the worst cook in the world," he would say. "At my house, we pray after we eat."
And despite his infirmities, he said he hoped to go on living. "There are too many people out there who owe me money."