I’ve known Don Rickles a long, long time. My first meeting was very interesting. No one knew of him then. He had just come out here. I was doing a movie with Ernie Kovacs, and Ernie said, “There’s a guy at the Slate Brothers they say is very funny. I’m going with Frank Sinatra. Do you want to join us?”
The three of us sat there and watched this guy. He just ripped people apart. Everyone was laughing and screaming. I’ll never forget the first big laugh he got: Franklin Roosevelt’s son was in the audience. Everyone applauded him. Don said, “James, I was in Vegas the other day. I saw your mother there. She was standing behind the pillar waving her pocketbook over her head saying, ‘Want to have some fun sailor?’” The audience went nuts. He dared to do that kind of a joke in front of the son of the president.
The interesting thing about Don — and I got to know him because I used him in a movie called “Enter Laughing” — his history was not as a comedian. He was going to become an actor. He became a very good actor; later in his life he did a lot of movies, and proved that he was more than just an insult comic.
He was a pussycat. He cared more about his wife than anything in the world. There were two sides to him, and the biggest side was husband and father. He was a rare, rare creature. And it was a badge of honor to be insulted by the great insulter. Because we all knew of Don’s heart.
“Enter Laughing” came on the other day, and I called him to tell him I was reminiscing about our days together, but he wasn’t able to come to the phone. The next thing I knew, he was gone. It’s been a year of tragedy.
Nobody can touch him. He’s beloved in our industry. If you say his name, people immediately start to smile.