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Adam Sandler - Biography

TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Adam Sandler - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web

Adam Sandler

Personal details

Name: Adam Sandler
Born: 9 September 1966 (Age: 49)
Where: Brooklyn, New York USA
Height: 5' 9"
Awards: 3 Emmy Nominations

All about this star


Back in the early Nineties, it was generally held that Saturday Night Live was finished. Having re-invigorated American comedy and spawned such cinematic stars as John and Jim Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, it was reckoned that the show had run out of steam, that it had become childish, crude and desperately un-funny. None of the current crop would cut it in the movies. Well, maybe Dana Carvey...

Amazing, then, that Mike Myers should become one of the biggest film stars in the world. And more amazing still that Myers should be eclipsed by the crudest and most childish SNL comedian of them all. Come 2002, Adam Sandler had enjoyed a string of massive hits, breaking box-office records and shattering the magical $100 million mark several times. And, where Myers was pulling them in as Austin Powers, Sandler was doing it as Adam Sandler. His name had become a guarantee and, as such, he was being paid more even than the likes of Harrison Ford.

He was born Adam Richard Sandler on the 9th of September, 1966, in Brooklyn, New York, the third of four kids. His dad, Stanley, was an engineer, while his mother, Judy, was a homemaker, looking after Scott (now a lawyer), Elizabeth (a dentist), Adam and Valerie (a restauranteur). While Adam was still young, they moved north, to Manchester, New Hampshire.

Sandler did not excel as a student. His interests lay elsewhere. He loved wrestling, and basketball - he played on Manchester Central High School's junior varsity team. Even now he keeps a hoop nearby whenever he's on-set. And there was music. At age 11, he got up to sing at Elizabeth's wedding, performing Ringo Starr's You're Sixteen to huge applause. Overly enthused, he then broke into Yesterday, and was roundly booed for trying to be the centre of attention. This was always the way with Sandler. You love him or you hate him. Or you love him, THEN you hate him. Then you love him again. Like Jim Carrey, he SERIOUSLY divides opinion.

The music would continue into his teens, when he formed a covers band. Rock was their thing. Sandler would later base his character in Airheads on one of his early drummers - into the noise and the camaraderie, but zoned-out and unable to remember any of the songs.

And, of course, there was another interest - comedy. Mel Brooks was an early influence. His 2000 Year Old Man used to crack Stanley up, something that Adam, ever the class clown, was always trying to do. Then, at age 12, there was John Belushi and Animal House. Two years later, there was Murray, Rodney Dangerfield and Caddyshack, a film Sandler claims to have seen 300 times. Consider Murray's character, the groundsman of the golf club, perpetually hunting the gophers destroying the greens. Laid-back, but dangerously obsessive and prone to explosions of rage. Remind you of anyone? The same year, Adam's parents took him to see Rodney Dangerfield live in Florida. Having pored over Dangerfield's records, he'd memorised his lines, and repeated them along with him.

When Adam was 17, the time came to apply to colleges, and decide what he wanted to do with his life. He hadn't really a clue, until brother Scott suggested he try comedy. This idea was strengthened when Scott started taking him down to comedy clubs in Boston. One night, Adam stood up to an open mic. He wasn't good but figured he could get better, he WOULD get better. For the first time in his life, the class goofball had a special purpose.

Immediately, he began writing material and playing shows wherever possible, mostly at colleges. It was tough. Extremely nervous, he'd get so wound up by gigs, he'd begin to stutter and it would take him two weeks to recover. Again, Scott had a suggestion. Why not play some songs? That way, he'd be singing words he'd already learned and not have to worry about saying the right thing - it would allow him to relax. And so it did. Adam began to write the kind of comedy ditties that would later make him millions.

As the child of a Jewish family, though, education was deemed vitally important, and Adam enrolled at New York University, to study Fine Arts, and Drama in particular. This was a groovy and prestigious establishment with sections all over Manhattan. Former drama students included Alec Baldwin, John Leguizamo and Bridget Fonda. Of course, he continued with stand-up and, playing at The Dive, an on-campus club, he was seen by a group of fellow students who'd all go on to join Team Sandler. Most notably, there was the actor Allen Covert, the director Frank Coraci and Adam's roomie, Tim Herlihy, with whom he'd co-write all his biggest hits.

An astute player, despite his dumbo image, Adam was at the same time scouting for TV and film work, and in his final year at college scored a part in the hugely successful Cosby Show. Here he played Smitty, dopey best mate of Theo Huxtable, appearing in two episodes in 1987 and two the next year. After graduation in 1988, with a BFA Drama, he also landed a part in MTV's wacky game-show Remote Control where students would be questioned while strapped into Laz-E-Boys and sucked through walls when their answers were incorrect. Hosting alongside Denis Leary and Alicia Coppola, Adam unleashed such characters as Stick Pin Quinn.

His name was certainly getting around. 1989 saw his feature film debut, as the lead in Going Overboard. Here he was Schecky Moskowitz, a waiter on a cruise ship who fancies himself as a comedian and steps up when the on-board comic goes missing. He is, of course, terrible, with more confusion (and lingering T&A shots) added by the fact that the ship's hosting a beauty pageant. Featuring Billy Zane, Burt Young and, briefly, Billy Bob Thornton, the film should have been better than it was. But it did see Adam working with Steve Brill, playing a priest. Brill would go on to direct Adam in Little Nicky and Mr Deeds. '89 would also see him begin his first really serious relationship, with Margaret Ruden, manager of a cosmetics company.

Moving to Los Angeles to concentrate on the burgeoning comedy circuit there, his big break came quickly. Performing at the Improv Theatre, he was spotted by comic Dennis Miller, who in turn recommended him to Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels. Impressed by the young man's efforts, in 1990 Michaels took him to SNL as a writer, and occasional performer. Come 1991, though, it had become clear that no one could perform Sandler's sketches as well as the man himself.

For the next five years he was a regular, creating such characters as Opera Man and Canteen Boy, as well as taking off the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Axl Rose, Eddie Vedder and Bono. Despite one reviewer calling him "The most talentless, juvenile and offensive member of the current cast", the viewers loved him. It would ever be thus. Most of his movies were critically mauled before taking off at the box-office. Actually, not even the people at SNL were always on his side. When he played Iraqi Pete during the Gulf War, everyone hated it. Even his good buddy and co-star Rob Schneider was ambivalent. But they all came round in the end. By the time Sandler left, in 1995, the show would have garnered three more Grammy nominations.

But it wasn't all rosy. Adam's film career had stalled badly after Going Overboard. In '91, he read five times for Dennis Dugan's comedy Brain Donors, but the studio preferred John Turturro (Sandler wouldn't be bitter. Dugan would later direct him in Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy, while Turturro would appear in Mr Deeds and Anger Management). Then there was the Toronto People's Comedy Festival, when Sandler turned up for a 40-minute slot with 20 minutes of material. He died, it was said, "a Shakespearian death".

Ordinarily, stand-up was his forte, and he proved it in 1993 with the release of his first comedy album, They're All Gonna Laugh At You. A catalogue of offensive songs, toilet humour and all-round beastliness, and featuring such skits as The Beating Of A High School Janitor and The Beating Of a High School Bus Driver (the Science and Spanish teachers got it, too), it thoroughly deserved its Advisory sticker. But it sold well, was Grammy-nominated and expanded his fan base, as would the following What The Hell Happened To Me? and What's Your Name, a collection of 12 raunchy songs. His fourth album, Stan and Judy's Kid, would enter the Billboard charts at Number 16, breaking the record for first-week sales of a comedy record. Often promoting the albums with college tours - aiming straight at his core audience - he has sold over five million units.

1993 also brought him back to films. Having the year before appeared briefly, along with Robin Williams, in Bobcat Goldthwait's grim comedy Shakes The Clown, now came Coneheads. This, originating from SNL sketches from the mid-Seventies, paired old SNL (Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin) with new SNL (Sandler and Chris Farley), and concerned funny-headed aliens who wish to invade Earth but accidentally crash-land on it and have to pretend to be human. It was a flimsy script and a bad movie, but Sandler, in a small role, did not bear the brunt.

Next came a better effort - Airheads. Here, a terrible rock band called the Lone Rangers take over a radio station with fake guns and force them to play their terrible single, Degenerated. Adam, as said, drew upon his own High School drummer, while Brendan Fraser and Steve Buscemi did their own hairy thing. It wasn't too shabby, dude.

After this came Nora Ephron's Mixed Nuts, with an excellent cast of oddballs. Here Steve Martin (another SNL old-boy) and Madeline Kahn run a crisis hot-line and the lives of staff and "patients" collide and mingle. Rita Wilson (Tom Hanks' missus) loves Steve, dozy songwriter Adam loves her, and Juliette Lewis, Rob Reiner and Parker Posey play it up in the background. It was sentimental stuff, and not a hit, but Adam himself, as a lovelorn loser, was actually very effective.

Now came the big cinematic breakthrough. Starring in Billy Madison, Sandler found a near-perfect vehicle for his aggressively child-like humour. Here he played the lazy son of an entrepreneur father who intends to hand his company over to a scheming vice president rather than let young Billy ruin it. To prove his worth, Billy must return to school and pass from Grade 1 to 12 in two weeks. Which of course he does, while revelling in a child's penchant for mockery and mischief.

Billy Madison set the tone for future Sandler productions. Filmed on a very low budget, it nevertheless took over $25 million very quickly, proving that his stand-up and SNL audiences would pay to see him on film. Now he took a major step forward, leaving SNL to do it. In Happy Gilmore, he was a rejected hockey player who, discovering that he possesses a whale of a golf drive, decides to go pro in order to save his grandmother's house, which is up for re-possession. He's called Happy, but like many of Sandler's characters, he's prone to extreme bouts of uncontrollable rage. This fits in with that child-like nature. His rage is like a child's tantrum, but as he's an adult, with macho tendencies, he's also armed with a quick wit and a capacity for violence. Sandler has said that as a kid, when he threw a tantrum, he'd lock himself in the bathroom, weeping and staring into his own eyes in the mirror, totally self-aware and wallowing in self-pity. Thus, he believes, he prepared himself for professional tantrums to come.

Happy Gilmore was possibly the apotheosis of Sandler's laid-back but explosive many-headed character. Happy bashes everybody, hilariously. Best of all, in one of the finest scenes in recent comic history, during a pro-am he gets into a barney with Bob Barker, host of the US version of The Price Is Right. Battering Bob to the ground, Happy delivers a withering "The price is WRONG, bitch". And then he gets his arse kicked by an impressively violent Barker. The movie took Sandler another step forward, taking $39 million at the box-office, and it got him a new girlfriend, as he began dating actress Carrie Ann Fleming.

But he didn't just do slap-stick comedy. He did, after all, have an all-round dramatic education. The same year (1996) saw him in Bulletproof, an action-packed buddy movie where he and Damon Wayans played a pair of petty crims with a deep bond. Thing is, Wayans is actually an undercover cop who's using Sandler to get to drug baron James Caan. When the big bust comes, and fails, Sandler shoots Wayans, Caan escapes, and Wayans must find his betrayed mate before Caan does. It wasn't great, despite being directed by Spike Lee's cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, but it showed once more that Sandler was no simple clown. He was on the up, briefly forming a hot, hot couple with Clueless star Alicia Silverstone.

Sandler's hidden depths were further revealed in his next picture, the Eighties-set The Wedding Singer. Here he was Robbie Hart, a nice guy who, jilted at the altar, has a hard time leading the entertainment at other people's nuptials. Indeed, deep down, he's psychotically bitter, as is uproariously revealed when he sings one of his own songs. Soon Drew Barrymore, a regular waitress at these events, catches his eye and becomes his friend, and he feels duty-bound to save her from her horrible fiance, all of it played out against a backdrop of puffy mullets and jackets rolled up at the sleeve.

The Wedding Singer was Sandler's biggest hit yet, its $80 million take moving him up towards the big league. His next movie, also released in 1998, took him right into it. In The Waterboy, recalling his SNL Canteen Boy persona, he played the dopey dogsbody of Henry Winkler's useless football team. As with Happy Gilmore, though, it's discovered that waterboy Bobby has a special talent - he tackles like Laurence Taylor crossed with Taz. Naturally, they recruit him and the team begins to win. Add a battle between would-be lover Fairuza Balk and Kathy Bates as Bobby's over-protective, Everglades-inhabiting and Misery-recalling mother, and you had a riot of laughs.

The critics hated it, and were shocked when it took $39 million on its opening weekend, more than any other film had done in November or December - including those released during holiday periods. It went on to take $161 million. Sandler, the sole headliner, was a big star now. But he didn't behave like it. "It feels good," he said "but it doesn't really change anything. We still have a lot of work to do on upcoming projects and it's important not to get ahead of ourselves".

The We he referred to was Team Sandler. Along with writer Tim Herlihy, there were directors Coraci and Dugan, Teddy Castellucci doing the scores, Michael Dilbeck the soundtracks, Jack Giarraputo as co-producer, plus actor friends like Covert and Rob Schneider (for whom Sandler would produce Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo). The team's been described as a mini-studio. And so loyal is Sandler that he even finds work for people's he's only met briefly - like Winkler, Rodney Dangerfield and Ozzy Osbourne.

1999 saw Team Sandler deliver Big Daddy. This brought Sandler back into familiar territory when he played Sonny Koufax, a rich boy (he's won $200,000 in a law suit) who's laid-back, lazy (he works one day a week in a toll-booth) and, of course, constantly on the edge of psychotic eruption. Left in charge of a young kid, he teaches it all manner of mischief - tripping skaters, weeing on restaurant doors - before finally discovering some sense of responsibility. Not unlike Billy Madison, then. Except that, now Sandler was big news, Big Daddy passed the $100 million mark in fourteen days, eventually even out-doing The Waterboy.

He moved on to Little Nicky. Here Satan (Harvey Keitel) is dying and one of his sons must take over his dispensing of pain. None are up to the job, though. Mightily miffed, the older pair, Rhys Ifans and Tiny Lister, break out of Hell and proceed to Earth to inflict maximum damage. So Satan sends his youngest son, Nicky (Sandler), a demon without a shred of evil in him, to bring them back. Aided by a foul-mouthed bulldog and a poncey thespian wannabe (Covert), he falls for fashion student Patricia Arquette, and struggles to capture his more powerful brothers. It was a strange film - half fish-out-of-water urban comedy, half surreal gothic horror-show - and it showed a real ambition to expand.

This ambition would be shown again in 2002. First, in Mr Deeds, Adam reprised the Gary Cooper role in the 1936 classic Mr Deeds Goes To Town. Here he was a small-town pizzeria owner who inherits a $40 billion company and tries, against all the odds, to bring decency to the world of big business. Winona Ryder was Babe, a tabloid hack seeking an expose, who poses as a small-town girl in order to inveigle her way into his confidence.

Then came Paul Thomas "Boogie Night/ Magnolia" Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love, based on a Time article about David Phillips, a civil engineer who manipulated a contest run by Healthy Choice foods by spending $300 on thousands of cups of pudding, and racking up 1.25 million air miles. Anderson wrote the lead for Sandler, believing him to be a far finer actor than people gave him credit for. And you can see this is the case, as Adam's character, Barry Egan, raised with and abused by seven sisters, is a small business owner prone to outbursts of rage and unable to love. Until, that is, he meets the mysterious Emily Watson. Of course, being Anderson, there are a great many complications thrown in, too. A collection of deleted scenes from the movie would be named Blossoms And Blood and added to the DVD. Anderson would also direct Sandler in a comic short about a man seeking a new sofa.

Barry Egan was a wonderful role for Sandler. The darkness and obsessive nature of his usual characters were here taken seriously and worked to great effect, the movie winning him a Golden Globe nomination and doing for him what One Hour Photo did for Robin Williams. He was now officially an Actor, and proved it once again by starring opposite Jack Nicholson in Anger Management, where he played a businessman wrongly placed on a rage reduction programme and tested by a fabulously aggressive instructor.

Aside from this, there would be a cameo as a bongo-player in his buddy Rob Schneider's The Hot Chick, and then Eight Crazy Nights, based on the Whitey skit from Stan And Judy's Kid. This was an animation, with Sandler providing several voices, where good and evil basketball referees clashed, and the spirits of sport and the holiday season were invoked. Sandler wrote all the songs himself, two of them being recorded with the bluegrass star Alison Krauss. There'd be more music (as well as sketches) on Sandler's hit 2004 CD Shh . . . Don't Tell.

Onscreen, 2004 would see him reunite with Drew Barrymore for the big hit 50 First Dates, a rom-com released for the Valentine's Day market. Here he played a marine biologist in Hawaii who specialises in one night stands with tourists. Then he falls for Barrymore, an accident victim who wakes each day unable to recall what's happened to her since the accident. Thus she's forgotten him just as he's forgotten all his other conquests, so he must find a way to win her back every day. It was no Groundhog Day, but it was sweet and charming, far less complex than his next outing. This was James L Brooks' Spanglish, where Sandler played a brilliant chef married to manically insecure drama queen Tea Leoni. Again playing down the craziness, he falls for Mexican maid Paz Vega and, with the aid of their respective young daughters, family rifts are gradually healed. Interestingly, to make Spanglish, Sandler had turned down the role of Tom Cruise's taxi driver in Michael Mann's Collateral, a part that would win Jamie Foxx an Oscar nomination.

Undeterred, Adam would then move back to violent sports with a remake of Robert Aldrich's 1974 American football classic The Longest Yard (released in the UK as The Mean Machine). Here he'd play a former NFL star who's jailed and forced to organise a team to play against the guards, all the while being encouraged to throw the match. Alongside him would be Burt Reynolds, the original's headliner.

Now safely ensconced at the top of the Hollywood tree, making $20 million for Mr Deeds and $25 million for Anger Management, and (in 2003) getting married to his girlfriend of four years, actress/model Jacqueline Titone (who he'd met on the set of Big Daddy), Adam Sandler has it made. He can do pretty much as he pleases, and does. Annoyed by the printed press - their abuse and serial misquoting - he no longer speaks to them, leading them to call him "the goofball Garbo". And it makes no odds. Sandler fans, like Sandler himself, are bloodymindedly loyal. So it seems that, for years to come, he will be joyfully opening a can of whup-ass on box-office records.

Dominic Wills

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