Don Rickles, legendary insult comic, dead at 90
Don Rickles, a comedian and actor known for his fiery mood, died Thursday of kidney failure at his Los Angeles home, according to his publicist, Paul Shefrin.
He was 90 years old.
Known as the greatest comic book in the world, Rickles enjoyed a career that lasted decades and found him acting in everything from nightclubs to a Martin Scorsese movie.
Rickles delighted in being the opposite of the politically correct.
In an interview in 1993, he told : “I do not even know what the hell it means.”
“I make fun of the world,” Rickles said. And you know that, and if you know how to handle that and you treat people … and you make fun of yourself, hey, it’s not offensive.
Born in the Jackson Heights section of Queens in New York, Rickles was the only son of an insurance salesman and homemaker.
After graduating from high school in the 1940s he made a two year term in the Navy before following in the footsteps of his father as an insurance agent.
That career did not take off and Rickles enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
He tried his hand at performing comedy at nightclubs between acting gigs and it was there that he found his true vocation when assuming hecklers.
Rickles was doing that in the 1950s when Frank Sinatra and his entourage happened with his performance in Miami Beach.
Sinatra took such a strong liking to the comedian that Rickles became an honorary member of the rat pack and the singer helped open the doors for Rickles and his caustic wit.
Los Angeles led some TV and film roles, but it was in Las Vegas, the home base of the Rat Pack, where Rickles perfected his art of humor curmudgeononly with sharply timed insults.
In 1965 an appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson gave him his national advance and quickly became a regular guest.
TV executives tried to capitalize on their popularity with “The Don Rickles Show” in 1972, but it was short-lived. A lead role in the sitcom “C.P. Sharkey” lasted a little longer, from 1976-1978.
But it was “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast,” which ran from 1974 to 1984 on NBC, where Rickle’s bars and zingers helped him establish him as “Mr. Warmth.”
On Thursday some of his Hollywood colleagues paid tribute to Rickles.
“He was called” The Poison Merchant, “but he was actually one of the kindest, most loving, sensitive human beings we’ve ever met,” actor Bob Newhart and his wife, Ginnie Newhart, said in a statement. “We are devastated and our world will never be the same.”
David Letterman, a former night anchorman, said in a statement that “Don coming into our program was always a highlight for me.”
“Just an endless prank and nonsense, and a guy who would make the public go completely insane,” Letterman said. He’s a professional, a gentleman, I miss him already.