“He battled depression even when things were going well,” Joan Child recently told Closer Weekly. “He wished success in his career and in romance came earlier to him. He wanted to live to 120 to make up for all the years of struggle.”
According to the magazine the bug-eyed comedian who always insisted “I don’t get no respect,” was born Jacob Cohen in Babylon, N.Y., grew up with an absentee father and an uncaring mother. The future star found refuge in making others laugh.
“His childhood was miserable,” said Child. “He felt unloved. He got his first laugh at dinner [at age 4] when he whined, ‘I’m still hungry.’ His mother said, ‘You’ve had sufficient,’ and he said, ‘I didn’t even have any fish!’ Everybody laughed and it made him feel great. He never forgot it."
The outlet shared Dangerfield would go on to work as a singing waiter and struggling stand-up. But after he married his first wife, singer Joyce Indig, he quit comedy in 1949 and opened up an aluminum siding business.
“He did well until the accountant cooked the books — Rodney found himself $20,000 in debt to a loan shark,” said Child. “He returned to comedy at his lowest point, and it changed his life.”
Now going by Dangerfield, the comedian got his second start in 1967 with a gig on “The Ed Sullivan Show” at age 44. That led to more than 70 appearances on “The Tonight Show.” Dangerfield also launched his own club in New York City and even appeared in a series of hit movies during the ‘80s.
“He said making audiences laugh was like a fix he needed to survive,” said Child. “He would always try to get booked on his birthday as a little gift to himself. It meant that he was still relevant. [But] he seldom laughed himself. Even when watching other comedians he thought were brilliant.”
But not everything in Dangerfield’s life thrived. The Washington Post reported Dangerfield and Indig divorced in 1962, remarried a year later and divorced again in 1970. People magazine added that after Indig died, Dangerfield made sure to raise their two children.
Still, Dangerfield found happiness again when he married Child, a flower importer, in 1993. Child told Closer Weekly their 11-year marriage was a happy one.
“We got weekly mani-pedis and he’d sing love songs to me at the salon,” she recalled. “He was romantic, and left me notes like ‘I’ll never let you down — unless you’re on a ladder.’”
And even during tough times, Dangerfield always found a way to make Child laugh. She recalled one moment when the star needed brain surgery in April 2003.
“The night before his surgery, he was concerned about whether he’d still be able to tell jokes,” said Child. “He said, ‘Honey if I can’t be in show business, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m too jealous to be your pimp!’”
Dangerfield passed away in 2004 at age 82 from complications after heart valve replacement surgery. At the time, Dangerfield’s health had been deteriorating despite making a handful of television appearances.
“He was ethical, compassionate, always reassuring and kind,” said Child. “An exceptionally good person.”
Back in 2018, Child recalled their joyous union to The Spectrum where she revealed the couple had dated for 10 years after meeting by chance in 1983 before tying the knot. Dangerfield first spotted the Utah native while strolling past her Santa Monica, Calif. flower shop.
“He lived in New York but was in town staying at a nearby Pritikin Longevity Center trying to lose weight and get healthier,” Child explained at the time. “Part of their program included taking morning walks. Being a die-hard fan, I recognized Rodney immediately. I was 16 when I first saw him on ‘The Tonight Show’ and suddenly there he was, 14 years later, walking towards me, the funniest man in the world.”
According to Child, Dangerfield began dropping by each morning to watch her arrange flowers. He attempted to make conversation and would even ask unexpected questions like, “What kind of drugs do you like?”
“I told him, ‘Antibiotics, I guess, they revolutionized medicine,’” said Child, who was raised in a Mormon family. “He thought I was the squarest person and replied, ‘What planet are you from?’”
Despite their differences, Child insisted it really was love at first sight.
“For me, it was love at first sight, the Holy Grail of encounters,” she said. “He was fascinating and had those soulful azure-blue eyes, the color of the sky on a clear day. I couldn’t look at him without smiling.”
According to the outlet, Child even inspired Dangerfield when he wrote the 2000 movie “My 5 Wives,” which was based on stories she told him about Utah polygamists living near where she grew up.
“I felt like the luckiest person in the world,” she said. “To have your own personal comedian constantly surprising you, I couldn’t wait to wake up each day.”
According to The Spectrum, Dangerfield sought therapy for his depression.
“Rodney was born into a very cold household,” claimed Child. “His father abandoned the family when he was young and there were no kisses or hugs from his mother. He would be left out in the yard with half a sandwich on the stoop, his grandmother keeping an occasional eye on him through the window, spending his day playing with a hammer. His humor, I think, was a coping mechanism to battle his anxiety. If you can lift everyone’s spirits around you, you can feel a bit better, too. And when he was out on stage, that’s when he felt his best — the laughter was validating and fulfilling and made him feel loved.”
“He tried various antidepressants, eventually finding a combination of medicine and therapy that was effective on a consistent basis,” continued Child. “… If he was in a particularly tense situation, his blood pressure would escalate and marijuana would instantly bring it down. We started documenting the results to show his doctor and he later obtained compassionate use approval.”
Since Dangerfield’s death, Child said she's been determined to keep the legacy of her late husband alive.
“Rodney’s social media presence is building, and it’s fun to see the reaction from his loyal fans as well as new ones,” she shared. “I am also very excited that Paradigm Talent Agency is currently fielding offers for a biopic or documentary film about Rodney’s remarkable life. I am sure that will deepen his impression on the world.”