One of the biggest and most elaborate private memorial tributes in recent history was held on the evening of October 10 at Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles to pay final respects to Rodney Dangerfield, who passed away on October 5 following complications from heart valve replacement surgery.
Dangerfield's widow, Joan, created a candle-lit heaven's harvest where chandeliers dripped from rose-encrusted trees and white cashmere carpeting covered the grounds leading to the chapel. An angelic harpist strummed at the chapel entry where attendees strolled through ornate iron gates boasting Dangerfield's initials shaped in sterling silver roses. Joan tried to create heaven on earth by covering the chapel grounds with canopied clouds of softly-lit chiffon which swept twenty feet into the sky while an abundance of fragrant candles and flowers hugged the pathways.
The services were held at dusk in keeping with Dangerfield's daily request to Joan that she never book appointments for him before 5pm. He was a night person, laid to rest just after sunset.
Master of Ceremonies Bob Saget commandeered a heartfelt and impressive service of eulogists including Rodney's daughter Melanie Roy Friedman, his nieces Morgan and SueAnn Reese, Jay Leno (who called Rodney "the greatest stand-up comedian of all time"), Roseanne, Paul Rodriguez, Tim Allen, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, Michael Bolton (too choked up to sing a planned song but did speak), Dom Irrerra, and Jim Carrey (who said, "I'll never forget how kind he was to my father. I remember watching Rodney on The Ed Sullivan Show as a child, and laughing, not because I got the jokes, but because my father was in hysterics!"). The common thread of the poignant eulogies emphasized how kind Rodney was to his fellow man, and the generosity he showed friends and fellow comedians.
Pall bearers were Adam Sandler, Bolton, Carrey, Harry Basil, Saget, Rob Schneider, David Permut, son Brian Roy and son-in-law David Friedman. Honorary pall bearers also in attendance included Chris Albrecht, Dennis Arfa, Anthony Bevacqua, George Carlin, Smokey Child, Andrew Dice Clay, Larry David, Layne Dicker, Neal ElAttrache, Dom Irrera, Hillel Laks, Leno, Jon Lovitz, Neil Martin, Anne Meara, Bob Nelson, Carl Reiner, Chris Rock, Paul Rodriguez, Roseanne, Larry Shire, Jerry Stiller, Edward Tomblin and Billy Tragresser.
Highlighting the service was a special Rodney Dangerfield Memorial Video, produced by longtime friend, producer Permut, that treated guests to a visual soundtrack of some of the most memorable moments in Rodney's life that brought the crowd of 500 to tears. Dangerfield's widow selected Frank Sinatra's "Come Fly With Me" as the recessional song because it was playing in his hospital room when he passed away.
Strolling violinists accompanied the pall bearers as they led the casket to the gravesite outside the chapel. The honorary pall bearers and family followed behind. A final prayer of comfort was recited by comic friend Louie Anderson at the behest of Dangerfield's widow. After the prayer, guests were led to an elaborate feast of Dangerfield's favorite dishes presented by caterer Along Came Mary, where family, friends, and fellow comics embraced and reminisced about their friend and how much he truly gave to the world.
The tremendous effect of Dangerfield's passing and legacy was evidenced by the overwhelming attendance by family, friends, and comedy royalty. In addition to the eulogists, pall bearers and honorary pall bearers, other celebrity attendees paying their last respects included Ben Stiller, Louie Anderson, Larry David, Bob Nelson, Brian Doyle Murray, Mark Schiff, George Shapiro, Carole Leifer, Dyan Cannon, Norm Crosby, Jack Carter, Robert Klein, Connie Stevens, Jayne Meadows, George Schlatter, Ed Begley, Jr., Berry Gordy, as well as comedy club star proprietors Budd Friedman, Jamie Masada, Anthony Bevacqua, and Mike Lacy. Real life angel Farrah Fawcett was also in attendance.
Glowing comments from guests abounded, including Academy Award-winning producer Al Ruddy who said, "It couldn't have been a better funeral if I had produced it. It was tasteful and special and the overall feeling was of happiness." American Comedy Awards creator and producer Schlatter said, "What a spectacular send-off for Rodney. Joan succeeded in truly creating heaven on earth for Rodney. She thought of everything."
Stunning floral bouquets flooded the chapel and grounds from well-wishers unable to attend such as Larry King, Jack Nicholson, Whoopi Goldberg, Rita Rudner, John Travolta, Chris Matthews, Cindy Williams, Byron Allen and others. Shaquille O'Neal sent a seven-foot tree in his place.
Though Dangerfield often joked about his terrible doctor, Dr. Vinny Boombatz, his favorite real-life doctors that looked after him through the years were in attendance, including Drs. Hillel Laks, Neil Martin, Jamie Moriguchi, Neal ElAttrache, and Nick Diaco.
Immediately following the services, Dangerfield's immediate family, including his wife and children from a previous marriage, Melanie and Brian, gathered at his Star on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame and adorned it with armloads of flowers.
Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park is also the resting final place for a number of Hollywood luminaries including Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Natalie Wood, Walter Matthau, Marvin Davis, and Eva Gabor, among others. A full-figure bronze statue will be created to adorn Dangerfield's grave. In addition, a special slide show tribute to him has been created by a group of world renowned celebrity cartoonists and is currently being put on his website, www.rodney.com. Ahh, respect at last. –Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen