From early success on the New York and Boston stand-up scene, to a stalwart of ‘Saturday Night Live’ followed by international superstardom, Adam Sandler’s rise to the top was meteoric. Fans couldn’t get enough of his early roles, from the furious ice hockey player turned golf pro Happy Gilmour to the charming 1980s wedding singer Robbie Hart, Sandler earned a huge army of admirers and was one of the most bankable comedy stars of the ‘90s and '00s. With lucrative online movie-making contracts ongoing, and a deal with Disney, Sandler shows no signs of stopping just yet.
Adam Sandler was born in Brooklyn, New York. The third of four children, Sandler was born with a rare defect that caused his jaw to move from side to side instead of up and down. As the young boy developed, this caused him to develop a speech impediment that would take many hours of speech therapy to correct.
When Sandler was six, his father Stanley and his mother Judy decided to move the family out of the grimy, run-down world of early 1970s Brooklyn to the leafy suburbs of Manchester in New Hampshire.
Sandler was educated first at Webster Elementary and then Hillside Junior High. Never a particularly academic pupil, the young Sandler preferred to spend his time wrestling and playing basketball. He remains a keen amateur basketball player to this day.
After leaving Hillside Junior High, Sandler enrolled at Manchester Central High School. He began to get a reputation as the class clown, but didn’t really entertain the idea of becoming an actor/comedian until he was seventeen.
After graduating from high school, Sandler enrolled at New York University where he studied for a degree in Drama and Fine Arts. After graduating from university, Sandler had the good fortune to land his first ever acting role in the smash-hit US comedy, The Cosby Show.
At the age of just twenty-one, Adam Sandler was well on his way to becoming a Hollywood superstar.
Sandler played the role of Theo Huxtable’s best buddy Smitty in The Cosby Show from 1985 to 1989. During his stint on the show, he also made regular appearances on the MTV game show, Remote Control. On the show, Sandler played a wealth of different characters, most famously Stud Boy and Trivia Delinquent.
Sandler made his first big screen appearance in the 1989 movie, Going Overboard. The movie, which told the story of a nervous young comedian working on a cruise ship that is overrun by terrorists was not well received by critics and flopped at the box office.
At the age of seventeen, Sandler’s brother had encouraged the young man to try stand up. Sandler had taken to stage comedy like a duck to water, and by 1990 he was performing regularly on the Boston comedy circuit.
He was then spotted by comedian Dennis Miller. Miller was a good friend of Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, and Miller recommended Michaels go and see this promising young comedian. Michaels duly obliged, and was bowled over by Sandler’s performance. He signed the young comedian up as an SNL scriptwriter on the spot.
Sandler fitted into the role of scriptwriter on the United States’ most successful comedy satire and sketch show well, but being a backroom boy wasn’t going to satisfy him for long. He convinced producers that the best person to perform his material was him, and luckily Michaels was prepared to give him a shot. Sandler made his debut on Saturday Night Live in 1990, and fast became a fan favourite, especially for his comedy songs such as ‘The Chanukah Song’ and ‘The Thanksgiving Song’.
Sandler stayed with Saturday Night Live for five years until a disagreement with producers led to him being fired from the show. Of course, by this stage Sandler was already starting to forge what would become a very successful movie career, so being dismissed from Saturday Night Live was not so bad.
In 1993, Sandler was offered the small role of Carmine in the Dan Aykroyd-starring Coneheads. This led to him being cast as one of the lead characters in the following year’s goofy, rock music-themed hijacking comedy, Airheads.
Next came some of Sandler’s biggest early successes. 1995’s Billy Madison was panned by critics but loved by audiences. The same could not be said for the buddy cop comedy Bulletproof which came the following year, but luckily Sandler had another iron in the fire in 1996 – Happy Gilmore.
It was Happy Gilmore that gained Sandler millions of devoted new followers. They loved the comedian’s portrayal of an ice hockey player with anger management issues who takes up professional golf to pay off his grandma’s debts. The movie was a modest success at the box office, but thrived on home cinema, quickly becoming a cult classic, especially among young people.
Box office success swiftly followed cult success with 1998’s The Wedding Singer. This 1980s-set romantic comedy co-starring Drew Barrymore was a box office smash, with critics praising Sandler’s performance as put-upon wedding singer and hopeless romantic, Robbie Hart. Many still consider The Wedding Singer to be Sandler’s best movie to date.
1998’s The Waterboy was another commercial – if not a critical – success. Many people were starting to believe Sandler had the Midas touch, especially with the subsequent success of 1999’s Big Daddy, 2000’s Little Nicky and 2002’s Mr. Deeds.
The comedian broadened his range and proved he wasn’t an angry one-trick pony in 2002 with the bittersweet comedy drama, Punch Drunk Love. Sandler’s performance was widely praised, and it earned him his first – and so far, only – Golden Globe nomination.
Sandler built on his success in the 2000s, with a string of hits including 2003’s Anger Management (co-starring Jack Nicolson), 2004’s 50 First Dates, 2006’s Click and 2008’s You Don’t Mess With The Zohan. Sandler also made several returns to serious roles, in 2004’s Spanglish, 2007’s Reign Over Me and 2009’s Funny People. The actor also signed a lucrative contract with the Walt Disney Corporation and released a well-received children’s movie in 2010 called Bedtime Stories.
Despite mounting criticism that his work was becoming stale and unfunny, Sandler continued to release movies that were critically panned yet enjoyed by the actor’s fan base. Notable successes in the period leading up to the present day were the two Grown Ups movies, where Sandler starred alongside Chris Rock and long-term collaborators Kevin James and Rob Schneider, and 2015’s Pixels.
In 2014, Sandler announced he had signed an exclusive, four-picture deal between his company Happy Madison Productions and the online streaming service, Netflix. Two movies have been released so far – 2015’s The Ridiculous Six and 2016’s The Do-Over. Both movies have received universally terrible reviews. Despite this, The Ridiculous Six is the most-watched movie on Netflix in the company’s short history.
It seems, as the decade draws to a close, that Adam Sandler can’t catch a break from the critics. His many adoring fans, however, remain just as loyal as ever.
Sandler’s reputation has taken a bit of a nose-dive over recent years. Where once he was perceived as a funny, happy-go-lucky kind of guy who made amiable romantic comedies (with a side-order of anger thrown in), he’s now viewed as a man who no longer cares about what he does, and is only turning up for the pay check. But how has this happened?
The seeds of Sandler’s fall from grace were sewn as the noughties came to a close. Sandler always had a loyal army of fans (indeed, he still does), but he had attracted a wider audience thanks to global mega-hits such as The Wedding Singer, and received critical acclaim for branching out into more nuanced roles in the likes of Punch Drunk Love and Spanglish. However, after a string of so-so comedies such as I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, audiences started to complain that Sandler was starting to phone it in.
It wasn’t entirely the actor’s fault. He had built his reputation on comedies where an everyman with anger management issues and a very particular set of skills beats all the odds to win the girl and win the game of life. There was no reason to doubt that this early formula, which had brought the comedian so much success, shouldn’t carry on. However, by the 2010s, Sandler’s shtick was wearing thin with the wider public.
The public perception of Sandler really began to change during the 2010s. The comedian starred in a string of movies that were poorly-received, including the truly dreadful Jack and Jill. Sandler’s reputation went from being a man who could deliver a well-rounded comedy that would be a solid box office and home video performer to a man who produced so-called ‘comedies’ nobody in their right mind wanted to watch. To all intents and purposes, Sandler suffered the same fate that John Cleese and Steve Martin had suffered before him – he became ‘that guy who used to be funny’.
Sandler, however, didn’t appear to care. Critically-panned movies were followed up by dreadful romantic comedies and terrible sequels to critically-panned movies. Eventually, the lucrative picture deal Sandler had enjoyed with Sony came to an end, and fans and ex-fans pondered if this would lead to Sandler making a creative turnaround. Instead, Sandler signed a five-picture deal with an online streaming service and starred in The Ridiculous 6, which is regarded as one of the worst motion pictures ever made.
As we head towards the end of the decade, the man who could do no wrong in the late ‘90s and early 2000s has, in the public eye, rather lost his mojo of late. It remains to be seen if he can get it back and win back the hearts of those fans who have long since abandoned him.
For a man as internationally famous as Adam Sandler undoubtedly is, he’s kept his private life very, well, private. Some movie stars let the experience of being mega-famous rather go to their heads – here’s looking at YOU, Charlie Sheen – but Sandler has steered a pretty straight course when it comes to his private life.
He is a happily married family man, having married his long-term girlfriend, actress and model Jaqueline Titone in 2003. Jaqueline gave birth to Sandler’s daughter Sadie in 2006. Another daughter, Sunny, was to follow in 2008. His wife Jaqueline converted to Judaism, Sandler’s religion, the year they married.
Sandler is notoriously private about his personal life. He all-but refuses to speak to the press, and rarely does television interviews. He has explained why he refuses, saying he grew increasingly sick of being misquoted. When he does do interviews, he tends to stick to promoting his movies and point-blank refuses to talk about his family life. His reluctance to speak to the press has earned him the nickname ‘The Goofball Garbo’.
He does, of course, maintain a tight-knit circle of friends that include long-time collaborator Rob Schneider as well as Kevin James, Chris Rock and Steve Buscemi. All still regularly appear in his movies.
Sandler occasionally makes the press for his charity work. In 2007, he made an eye-popping $1m donation to the Boys and Girls Club in his hometown of Manchester, New Hampshire. He also contributed $2,100 to the former New York mayor Rudy Guliani’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in the same year.
Most of all, Sandler is a very private man who likes to keep his relationships with his friends, his charitable works and, most importantly, his family life private. Who can blame him in an era where so many celebrities’ lives are laid bare, and the bones of their past relationships are picked over by gossip columnists and the public alike? That one of the highest paid actors in comedy has managed to keep his private life so private is no mean feat.
- Adam Sandler: And Unauthorised Biography by Dave Stern
Written by: Ben Perry