Don Rickles, Legendary Insult Comic, Dies at 90

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Abrasive comic Don Rickles, the honorary Rat Pack member and celebrity roast guest whose career spanned six decades, has died. He was 90.

Rickles died Thursday morning at his home in Los Angeles from kidney failure, his longtime publicist Paul Shefrin confirmed. He would have turned 91 on May 8.

Though he appeared in films and on television, Rickles’ mainstay was always nightclub performances, appearing in Las Vegas and elsewhere into his late 80s. He also found late success as the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the “Toy Story” films, which were exceptional box office performers, and popped up frequently on latenight talkshows.

Rickles’ career had its ups and downs as comedic tastes changed, and his curmudgeonly persona was sometimes out of kilter with audience tastes, but he survived long after many of his contemporaries had disappeared into retirement. And when he was hot, he was a potent club headliner, insulting his audience with his two key signature phrases “dummy” and “hockey puck.”

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His attempts at series TV did not succeed because of the astringency of Rickles’ personality. His serious side, however, was occasionally put to good use in guest starring roles in episodic TV and the occasional dramatic role in movies such as his first, “Run Silent, Run Deep,” and Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film “Casino.”

Donald Jay Rickles was born in Manhattan and studied acting at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York after serving in the Navy during WWII. He began appearing in nightclubs during the ’50s but didn’t really break through until his first appearance on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” in 1965.

In the meantime, he worked in movies. After his debut in WWII submarine drama “Run Silent, Run Deep” (1958), he appeared in the Tony Curtis-Debbie Reynolds romantic comedy “The Rat Race” and various AIP beach movies with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon.

After the Carson appearance, he achieved headliner status in Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe, and he was frequently seen in the company of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack.

He took to the stage in the L.A. production of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” playing Felix. Later he took “The Don Rickles Show” on tour around the country. He also made more movies, including Carl Reiner’s “Enter Laughing” and WWII heist comedy “Kelly’s Heroes.”

His first try at a TV series, CBS’ “Kibbe Hates Finch” in 1965, never got beyond a pilot. Variety series “The Don Rickles Show” lasted a single season in 1969-69, and his mid-’70s sitcom “C.P.O. Sharkey” lasted two. He co-hosted reality clip show “Foul-Ups, Bloops and Blunders” with Steve Lawrence for a single season in 1983-84 on ABC. His last attempt was Fox’s 1993 sitcom “Daddy Dearest” co-starring Richard Lewis, which quickly folded.

More successful were his guest starring appearances on TV in a variety of shows including comedies such as “Archie Bunker’s Place,” “The Lucy Show,” “F Troop” (in a recurring role as Bald Eagle), “Get Smart,” “Newhart” and, in 2011, “Hot in Cleveland.” He also acquitted himself on TV dramas like “Medical Center” and “Chrysler Theater.” He guested on “The Single Guy” and “Murphy Brown” in the late ’90s, appeared in a supporting role in 2004 telepic “The Wool Cap” and appeared as himself within a dream sequence in a 2007 episode of CBS drama “The Unit.”

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In January 2005, Rickles appeared with Bob Newhart, whom he considered his best friend, on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” the day after Johnny Carson’s death to reminisce about their many guest appearances on Carson’s show.

During the late ’70s and a good part of the ’80s, Rickles’ humor was out of fashion, and while he continued appearing at casinos, the luster of his star had faded. Then, things turned around again, and a new generation of comedians that he had influenced came into favor. Rickles was once again in vogue.

Rickles’ humor, while enjoyed better in person, also landed on record with albums such as “Hello Dummy!” and “Don Rickles Speaks.”

In Scorsese’s 1995 film “Casino,” Rickles had a substantial role as a trusted cohort to Robert De Niro’s casino owner. And the “Toy Story” animated features kept Rickles busy, voicing Mr. Potato Head in the 1995 original, the 1999 sequel and the enormously successful third entry in 2010. He reprised the role in a 2011 short called “Hawaiian Vacation,” and he voiced the Frog character in the 2011 live action/animated hybrid “Zookeeper,” starring Kevin James and Rosario Dawson.

The comedian’s memoir, “Rickles’ Book,” was published in 2007. John Landis directed a documentary on Rickles, “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project,” which debuted on HBO the same year. For his performance in the documentary, Rickles won an Emmy for individual performance in a variety or music program.

In May 2014 the funnyman was saluted by the likes of David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld and Jon Stewart in the Spike TV special “One Night Only: An All-Star Comedy Tribute to Don Rickles.”

Survivors include Rickles’ wife of 52 years, Barbara; a daughter; and two grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Larry Rickles Endowment Fund at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

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  1. Josh Logan says:

    I quit working at shoprite and now I make $65-85 per/h. How? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new… after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn’t be happier. Here’s what I do… http://maxbiz1.com

  2. Tony W Goddard says:

    THE MOVIE KELLYS HEREOS WAS ACTUALLY A ACTION MOVIE WHERE RICKLES HAD A FEW COMEDIC LINES BUT WAS A ACTION MOVIE THROUGH OUT NOT A COMEDY.WATCH A MOVIE BEFORE YOU COMMENT ON ONE IN YOUR ARTICLE, YOU WILL DO BETTER

  3. spencer shannon says:

    I don’t get many laughs, but Rickles just breaks me up BIG-TIME! Especially in these pathetic pc era he stood alone! Of course his idol was “The Chairman of the Board: Sinatra’-(P.S. Try & locate, it’s easy on youtube, where FS was on Johnny & Rickles show4ed-up But his highnote ever was the Dino Roast to Sinatra!”

  4. joseph massaro says:

    My late wife and I had seen Don perform at least 30 times over our 46 years of marriage and he never disappointed. We always left with our jaws hurting from laughing. He was an original.

  5. Alex Meyer says:

    RIP Don Rickles. His career as a comedian was legendary, but for millennials like myself, he’ll always hold a special place in our hearts as the sarcastic, yet hilarious Mr. Potato Head from the Toy Story trilogy.

  6. Roger Engstrom says:

    I Loved his ‘Nom de Plume’: “Mr. Warmth”! RIP, Don Rickles.

  7. Bruce Nicklin says:

    You will live forever

  8. Maude Frickett ponders the imponderable.

  9. Richard says:

    Really think the reporter missed the mark with pejorative undertones to this story. Rickle’s genius was appearing abrasive, and really having a heart of gold.

  10. SANDRA GREENWALD says:

    I was sadden to hear the news about the passing of Don Rickles. He was on of a kind; always made me laugh. Hie was one of the greats; a great loss. My condolences to his family.

  11. Alex says:

    Rest in peace ya hockey puck

  12. Patrick Tierney West Babylon NY says:

    Don leaves behind lots of laughs,moments,and a terrific body of work that will be enjoyed for generations to come They’re are endless material on YouTube. My favorites will always be his roasts and his Carson appearances.
    My condolences to his family.

  13. Paully says:

    RIP so funny man. He was a hit in comic books also. Jimmy Olsen #139 had Don on the cover and was the biggest selling DC comic that year.. He was fantastic in Casino ..

  14. Ambropoetica says:

    May he rest easy… bless his soul.

  15. gabe says:

    my dad told me man this sucks

  16. gabe says:

    my dad told me man thissucks

  17. Dennis says:

    I remember seeing Don at the Golden Nugget in 1990 during a 4th of July weekend. My old roommate and I got seats at a table in the back of the room, and thank God for that. He ripped anyone near the stage. Race, religion, gender….no one was safe. I had to hold my hands against my face and press my cheeks downward because my face hurt so much from smiling and laughing. I will truly miss Mr. Warmth. I wonder if his walk out music is playing as he approaches the pearly gates?

  18. Inspector clouseau says:

    One of a kind.The dying breed of the greats continues.Sad.

  19. Jimmy says:

    Rest In Peace Don….. Comedy Legend

  20. Paul says:

    I thought he was going to die onstage….as usual.

  21. Jeff says:

    At a time we all need them, it’s so painful to lose someone who put his heart and soul into making us laugh. He made it look easy, and it isn’t. A gifted genius. Condolences to his family.

  22. James Tinder says:

    I’ll never forget an ad-lib by Don Rickles. It was on Johnny Carson’s 10th Anniversary Tonight Show. Jack Benny and Joey Bishop were on the couch with Rickles. Benny commented, “By the end of the show they’ll be more Jews out here than anyone else!” His line got a tepid audience response. Rickles replied, “And Jack, judging from the audience, you better warm up the car — we’re in trouble!”

  23. Peter Malatinsky says:

    Don Rickles was the nicest person I ever met.
    I knew that he would die eventually as everyone does. But it’s so sad.

  24. GRAINGER HEBSHIE says:

    MINDY YOUR DAD WAS MY HERO,I SIT HERE CRYING OVER THIS DAY AS I KNEW IT WOULD COME,I LOVE HIM,MADE ME LAUGH,SMILE,NO ONE WILL EVER FILL HIS SHOES ,NO ONE,MINDY THANK YOU FOR WHAT YOU DID FOR ME,MY THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE WITH YOU AND YOUR FAMILY,GOD BLESS..

  25. Steven Shelton says:

    Thank for all of those laughs. RIP

  26. w gerald bird jr says:

    What they call comedy today is at a loss, George Carlin gone, Carson, Berle, Hope and many more. Now Don Rickles whom I loved, thanks for all the laughs although the politically correct never got it you were a warm, loving human person who made fun of the human foibles no matter what the race, religion or ethnicity rest in peace hockey puck, rest in peace. Your insults actually brought peoples together and to be able to laugh at themselves and put real bigotry behind them.

  27. Al Jones says:

    At 90 Don was one of the last of the great entertainers from the 1940’s. RIP Don and thanks for the laughs. Sad, to see them leave us. Looks like Jerry Lewis is one of the last from the 40’s era, God bless them all.

  28. bob says:

    R.I.P. one hell of a funny man. His best roll to me was Kelly’s Heroes Staff Sergeant “Crapgame”.

  29. RP says:

    Wow. The old guard of night club comedy, who’s left besides Jackie Cooper and Jerry Lewis?

  30. Eleanor Pelcyger says:

    My heart is broken. He was one of my favorite comics and I feel fortunate to have seen his last tv appearance last month.

  31. Kathleen says:

    My sympathies to his family & friends. I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Rickets when I was stationed at The Admiral’s Boathouse in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. I will treasure the picture (1978) that I had taken of us together, I was the tour guide.

    Kathleen (White) Ouellet – USN Veteran – Wisconsin.

  32. Glenda Harbaugh says:

    Edit:
    His son passed at age 41.

  33. heyitsron says:

    Really sorry to hear this. For the past couple of years he did not look well in his appearances. Comedy as we like it, love it, where thin skinned people needed to sit down and shut up because it didn’t do any good to complain. Another Joan Rivers comedy type that we will fondly remember and with sorrow miss greatly. At least he had 90 good years to give to us. Each time we saw him on TV he was very much alive and kicking. RIP, Don.

  34. Hockey Puck says:

    RIP

  35. Bob Verini says:

    My bucket list included seeing Don Rickles perform live, and I was able to achieve it when he brought his one-man show, complete with orchestra, to Beverly Hills four or five years ago. While he was less limber — he stayed seated a lot of the time — his wit and mind were sharp as ever. Rest in peace, Mr. Rickles, you made me laugh just about more than anyone else except Groucho.

  36. Gypo O'Leary says:

    Somewhere they are laughing, not here today.

  37. wishinwell says:

    Funny man actually hilarious during a time when comedians could poke fun @ things, didn’t have so many restraints about what can and cannot joke about like today yet wasn’t tasteless. Good actor too. Sad news.

  38. Puck Mugger says:

    I was in the Army in 1985 stationed at Fort Ord…me and some buddies drive down to LA on our motorcycles, got one of those map to the hollywood stars and drove my Don Rickles house…he was out side trimming his bushes and we pulled up and said hello and he said hello back…we said we were in the Army from Fort Ord and he lit up and came over to talk to us for 10 or so minutes…he thanked us for our service and was very friendly…RIP Don Rickles.

  39. BillUSA says:

    I never met Mr. Rickles but I feel like I’ve lost a close friend. I appreciate all the laughs and the genuine humanity of this man. Heaven will never be the same.

    I had seen him here and there on television in the late 60’s to early 70’s and was familiar with his shtick. But it was an appearance on “The Tonight Show” a few years later that indelibly forced him into my consciousness. Now, I don’t know if he did a short routine that night before sitting down next to Johnny Carson, but when he stepped up onto the platform and stood in front of the chair, he made an insult about blacks then pretended to have been struck by a knife thrown from the audience and proceeded to fall back onto the chair. I nearly shot the soda I was drinking through my nose. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr. Don Rickles. You were the best at what you do and are a genuinely nice human being.

    My heart-felt condolences to his family.

  40. Hockey Puck says:

    A talent not soon replaced, will miss him.

  41. Nicholas says:

    one class act. just like there will never be a Bird or a Magic on the basketball court, there will never be funnyman like Rickles on stage.

  42. Aaron Fleming says:

    This should be the greatest eulogy in history. RIP Mr. Warmth.

  43. Rick says:

    Thanks for the laughs, Dummy. Rest in peace.

  44. Ann in Los Angeles says:

    A funny man, a nice man. Sympathies to his family, friends, and all those hockey pucks.

  45. Mike Boothe says:

    Very sad to hear this, always a big fan. I wish I could have seen him in person. RIP, Mr. Rickles, you are missed already. And are probably laughing it up with Carson and Sinatra at the pearly gates.

  46. jimmy zwwer says:

    Funny as heck

  47. Rob Geist says:

    I thought he would live forever. :(

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