Rest in Peace, Rodney Dangerfield

The death of a celebrity is not something that usually affects me in any noticeable way. There are the rare few that truly make me sad, and those are usually the ones taken by foul play: Kurt Cobain, Phil Hartman, etc. But then there are the legends. The ones who leave a tangible hole in your life, a gap that you know will never be filled. Bob Hope. Fred Rogers. Michael Jeter. Johnny Cash. Ray Charles. You mourn them, but you know heaven is becoming a more interesting place. And if it wasn’t before, it will be soon.

Rodney Dangerfield was the first “adult” comedian that I really got. As a kid, I remember running to watch his stand-up appearances on HBO and Showtime, his movies, anything I could catch. Back to School was and is one of my favorite movies, along with Caddyshack, and even Rappin’ Rodney. Rodney had a way of turning self-deprecation into high art. I’m convinced he could have made anyone laugh at any time. Rodney could stand next to an inmate getting strapped into the electric chair, and start off with a trademark “You think you got it bad…?” and the room would be in stitches. Rodney’s zingers were so powerful, so overwhelming, that you truly didn’t feel bad for laughing at a thing he said against himself, mainly because you knew, on some level, he was talking about you. About all of us. Telling us to step back, take a look at our lives, and just let go. He could melt your heart in half a second with those four famous words: “I get no respect…”

In Junior High, those great years when self esteem is a concept that seems as remote and intangible as… well, a Triple Lindy, Rodney gave me laughter, not to mention some great comebacks that would disarm verbal taunters, and usually get them laughing with me. “You were the inspiration for twin beds!”, or “When you were a kid, they had to tie a pork chop around your neck just so the dog would play with you!”, or “When you were born, you were so ugly, the doctor slapped your mother!”

It hurt tonight when I turned on my computer and saw that Rodney had passed away after a long battle with heart disease. The man fought through a grueling operation just to prepare him for a heart operation that ultimately proved unsuccessful. I suppose it’s poetic somehow, that there was no way to replace Rodney Dangerfield’s heart. Rodney, always one to look on the bright side, said this before his series of surgeries: “If things go right, I’ll be there about a week, and if things don’t go right, I’ll be there about an hour and a half.” I’m sure somewhere in the back of his mind, Rodney’s only concern in the hospital would be hearing that his surgeon would be Dr. Vinnie Boombatz.

Losing Rodney hasn’t left a hole in my life. Like others I admire, his passing has left a space where light will always shine through, a reminder of his beautiful life, an assurance that in touching the lives of others, he has meant something to the world. In the classic climactic moment of Back to School, he made me believe that a middle-aged man could pull off the infamous Triple Lindy. And he’s still up there in the air, sailing.

Rest in Peace Rodney. You have respect, now and forever.

“What good is being the best if it brings out the worst in you?” – Rodney Dangerfield*

*A touching line, and fitting yes, but I think Rodney purposely mis-linked this audio clip on his website, Rodney.com

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