On this Day in Movie History, October 5, 2004: Rodney Dangerfield Dies (and not on stage)

It was on this October 5, 2004, a downtrodden, everyman with a perpetual hangdog expression named Jacob Cohen died. Born of Jewish parents, the vaudevillian performer Phil Roy (Philip Cohen) and Dotty Teitelbaum, his had ancestors come to the United States from Hungary. At the age of 15, he began to write for standup comedians, and began to perform at the age of 20 under the name Jack Roy. Struggle as he may through his professional career, this everyman could, “Get no respect.”

Cohen, or Jack Roy as he was legally named worked at a number of different jobs from being a singing waiter to be an aluminum siding salesman as he worked to establish himself as a comedian. Realizing that what he lacked was an “image”—a well-defined on-stage persona that audiences could relate to and that would distinguish him from similar comics, he took the comical name of a faux cowboy star by Jack Benny. This Benny character, also could “get no respect” from the outside world.

Fate intervened on Sunday March 5, 1967, when The Ed Sullivan Show needed a last-minute replacement for another act. Jack Roy became the surprise hit of the show.

Headlining shows in Las Vegas and making frequent encore appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, he became a regular on The Dean Martin Show and appeared on The Tonight Show a total of 35 times. In 1969, he teamed up with longtime friend Anthony Bevacqua to build a comedy club. He now had a venue in which to perform on a regular basis, without having to constantly travel. The club became a huge success and has been in continuous operation for over 40 years. This was the venue for several HBO shows which helped popularize many standup comics, including Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Tim Allen, Roseanne Barr, Robert Townsend, Jeff Foxworthy, Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks, Rita Rudner, Andrew Dice Clay, Louie Anderson, and Bob Saget.

His career peaked during the early 1980s, when he began acting in hit comedy movies. One of more memorable performances was in the 1980 golf comedy Caddyshack, in which he played a nouveau riche developer who was a guest at a golf club and began shaking up the establishment of the club’s old guard.

If you haven’t guessed the name by which this star was known by now, we are talking of none other than the beloved Rodney Dangerfield. He died on this day, October 5, 2004, at the UCLA Medical Center, from complications of the surgery he had undergone in August. He was a little over a month and a half short of his 83rd birthday. Dangerfield was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. His headstone reads, “Rodney Dangerfield… There goes the neighborhood.”

UCLA’s Division of Neurosurgery named a suite of operating rooms after him and gave him the “Rodney Respect Award”, which his wife presented to Jay Leno on October 20, 2005. It was presented on behalf of the David Geffen School of Medicine/Division of Neurosurgery at UCLA at their 2005 Visionary Ball.

Filmography

The Projectionist (1971)
Caddyshack (1980)
Easy Money (1983) (also writer)
Back to School (1986) (also writer)
Moving (1988) (Cameo)
Rover Dangerfield (1991) (voice) (also writer and producer)
Ladybugs (1992)
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Casper (1995) (cameo)
Casper: A Spirited Beginning (1997)
Meet Wally Sparks (1997) (also writer and producer)
Rusty: A Dog’s Tale (1998) (voice)
The Godson (1998)
Pirates: 3D Show (1999) (short subject)
My 5 Wives (2000) (also writer and producer)
Little Nicky (2000)
Back by Midnight (2002) (also writer)
The 4th Tenor (2002) (also writer)

Birthdays
1919 – Donald Pleasance (actor: You Only Live Twice, Fantastic Voyage, Tale of Two Cities, The Adventures of Robin Hood; died Feb 2, 1995)

1923 – Glynis Johns (actress: Mary Poppins, The Ref, A Little Night Music, The Sundowners, Coming of Age, Glynis)

1925 – Gail Davis (Betty Jeanne Grayson) (actress: On Top of Old Smoky, Blue Canadian Rockies, Cow Town, Brand of Fear, Winning of the West; died Mar 15, 1997)

1930 – Skip (George) Homeier (actor: Starbird and Sweet William, Cry Vengeance, The Gunfighter, The Halls of Montezuma, The Interns)

1933 – Diane Cilento (actress: Winner Takes All, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Tom Jones, Negatives, Hombre, The Naked Edge)

1935 – Peter Brown (actor: Lawman, Laredo, Darby’s Rangers, Ride the Wild Surf, Backtrack!, Days of Our Lives, Foxy Brown, Calendar Girl Murders)

1950 – Jeff Conaway (actor: Taxi, The Patriot, Sunset Strip, A Time to Die, Almost Pregnant, Bounty Hunter 2002, The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission, Grease, Pete’s Dragon; died May 27, 2011)

1951 – Karen Allen (actress: Ghost in the Machine, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Backfire, National Lampoon’s Animal House, Starman)

1970 – Josie Bissett (actress: Melrose Place, Secrets, The Hogan Family, Desire, Mikey, Book of Love, All-American Murder)

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