Comedian Rodney Dangerfield didn’t break into show business overnight. Even though his career really blew up for him later in life, the comedian always had a passion for telling jokes and making people laugh.
“Not to sound corny, but, it is like a drug, getting laughs and being on stage,” Rodney’s friend Harry Basil shared to Closer Weekly about the late star. “Even like Robin Williams, if he wasn’t doing a movie or wasn’t on tour, he would pop into clubs and go up on stage for nothing, just to get that fix. He needed it. It was a creative output.”
However, Rodney’s passion to tell jokes wasn’t keeping the lights on at home. At age 28, he had to support himself, his first wife, Joyce Indig, and their children on the money that he would make from doing gigs.
“Joyce, she was a singer, so she knew what it was like trying to get the next gig,” Harry explained. “So when he got married to Joyce and had kids she said to him, ‘Look, you can’t be doing this anymore you need to get a real job.'”
Rodney ended up taking his wife’s advice and put his dream of being a comedian on hold. He began working in the paint supply and aluminum siding business until he was 40 years old and couldn’t take it anymore. Even as the years flew by, Rodney missed doing stand-up and was still writing jokes.
“Rodney was always kind of bitter about not being in the game and then at a certain point, he just said I’m going to do it and get back into it. Everyone thought he was crazy; he owed money, he had a successful business, but he had a wife and two kids and is now trying to get back into show business,” Harry said. “I guess he needed that fix. In a sense, show business was in his blood and he needed those laughs for approval.”
Rodney ended up leaving Joyce in 1970 and went on to marry his second wife, Joan Child, in 1993. “For all the years I saw them together, he was always very physical, huggy, kissy, beautiful; and every time she left he would go, ‘Man I got blessed with her, I don’t know what I did but I got blessed,'” Harry recalled about the two lovebirds. “Any time she walked out the door he would say how blessed he was with Joan.”
Being with Joan helped Rodney forget about his childhood, too. Since his mother was nicknamed “Ma Barker” for “not being a very warm, loving person,” it really affected him growing up. “He said that she never gave him a hug, never made him breakfast, things like that,” Harry remembered, but when he was with Joan everything felt alright.
“As tough as he was — he was really a tough guy, grew up on the streets, played tough clubs, he had a pretty tough exterior — he was extremely sensitive,” Harry noted.
In 2004 Rodney ended up passing away. Like his comedic life, his tombstone currently reads, “Rodney Dangerfield … There goes the neighborhood.”