Rodney Dangerfield (November 22, 1921 - October 5, 2004)
Comedian Rodney Dangerfield's autobiography, It's Not Easy Being Me: A Lifetime of No Respect But Plenty of Sex and Drugs (HarperCollins, 2004), contains surprising news: he smoked marijuana throughout his life. Dangerfield also recounted witnessing Jackie Gleason purchasing pot in the 1940s.
As a child, Dangerfield's neglectful parents left him with little self esteem, and he admirably channeled his despair into his act. The ugly, unloved kid had quite a full life, and his book is full of interesting anecdotes, interspersed with hilarious jokes. His first "I don't get no respect" joke was, "I used to play hide and seek. They wouldn't even look for me." As well as giving us 50 years of great jokes, Dangerfield helped foster the success of countless young comics, by hosting an HBO comedy showcase and running a comedy club in New York City. His breakthrough movie role was in the pot-friendly film Caddyshack (pictured).
Dangerfield tells of drinking heavily to counter his depression, but says he had better results with marijuana. He wrote, "Booze is the real culprit in our society. Booze is traffic accidents, booze is wife beating. In my life I've seen many doctors and psychiatrists, and all of them have told me that I'm better off with pot than with booze." Dangerfield had a doctor's recommendation from a California physician to use marijuana medicinally for high blood pressure and pain. He cautioned against smoking on the job, however, saying his comic timing was off while "high" and he did not perform under marijuana's influence.
Sadly, Rodney died in October 2004, at the age of 82, after complications from heart valve replacement surgery. Joan Dangerfield, Rodney's widow, gave a beautiful speech, titled "Rodney Dangerfield's Lifelong Romance With Marijuana" at the Fourth National Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics in April 2006 at Santa Barbara City College.
When the news of Dangerfield's marijuana use first broke in August 2002 (when he surprised nurses by lighting a joint in a hospital bathroom), his publicist Kevin Sasaki said his office was flooded by calls - all of them positive - after the story hit the stands. "Everyone wanted to tell him, 'You go!' He's become a hero of sorts," Sasaki said. With 80 million admitted pot smokers in the US alone, Dangerfield was suddenly reaching an untapped fan base. He got our respect.