Who was Don Rickles?
Don Rickles was an American stand-up comedian, author, and actor. He was one of the most respected and popular talents in the entertainment industry. His quick wit and funny remarks accompanied by his genuine affection for his audience made him an irresistible combination of fun, amusement, and laughter. He was a regular in celebrity roast circuits due to his incredible talent of making an insult sound inoffensive and funny. He attracted a lot of attention as his insults were mean and hurtful and yet the person at the receiving end would laugh wholeheartedly. He started out as a conventional comedian, performing rehearsed jokes, but changed tracks after realizing that the audience loved his impromptu insults more than the prepared material. His style endeared him to a number of fans that included the great Frank Sinatra. Apart from appearing in several films and TV shows, he had also released two comedy albums. He was honored with many awards, including a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ at ‘The Comedy Awards.’ His brand of insult comedy earned him many nicknames, such as ‘The Merchant of Venom,’ ‘The Insultan,’ ‘Mr. Warmth,’ and ‘Master of Insults.’
Childhood & Early Life
Don Rickles was born Donald Jay Rickles on May 8, 1926, in Queens, New York, USA. His father Max was in the insurance business and his mother Etta was a housewife.
He attended ‘Newton High School’ in Elmhurst, Long Island.
After graduating, he enlisted in the U.S Navy and served during ‘World War II.’ He was honorably discharged in 1946.
He then studied at the ‘American Academy of Dramatic Arts’ as he wanted to become a serious actor.
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Don Rickles could only land small roles in television upon his graduation. He began performing stand-up comedy to supplement his income, eventually developing his ‘insult comedian’ persona.
He made his film debut in 1958 in ‘Run Silent, Run Deep.’ He started making a lot of appearances in television sitcoms and dramatic series over the next few years.
After his first guest appearance in 1965, he went on to make more than 100 appearances as a guest and host in ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.’
During the 1960s, he made many guest appearances in shows like ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’ ‘The Munster,’ ‘The Addam’s Family,’ and ‘The Mothers-in-law.’
He started the 1970s with a very important role in the hit movie ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ (1970), which starred Clint Eastwood. He made a number of appearances in television comedies like ‘The Don Rickles Show’ (1972) and ‘The Dean Martin Roasts’ (1973).
He starred in the sitcom ‘C.P.O. Sharkey’ in 1976. The episode in which he broke Johnny Carson’s cigarette box became the highlight of the show.
He started performing with singer Steve Lawrence at concerts in Las Vegas in the 1980s. They also co-hosted series like ‘Foul-ups’ and ‘Bleeps & Blunders’ in 1983.
Don worked in ‘Tales from the Crypt’ (1990), ‘Innocent Blood’ (1992), ‘Casino’ (1995), ‘Toy Story’ (1995), and ‘Dirty Work’ (1998).
The 21st century brought with it new opportunities for Don. In 2000, he received his star on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame.’ His major television and film projects during the decade included ‘The Wool-Cap’ (2004) and ‘The Catch’ (2005)
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His memoir titled ‘Rickles’ Book’ was released in 2007.
A documentary titled ‘Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project,’ which was based on his life, was aired at the 2007 ‘New York Film Festival’ and later on HBO.
Even during his late-80s, he frequently appeared in late night talk shows like ‘Late Show with David Letterman,’ ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!,’ and ‘The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.’
An important breakthrough for Rickles came when he signed for his first appearance in ‘The Dean Martin Show.’ His first guest appearance in the popular prime-time variety show was a major success.
Rickles’ live comedy album ‘Hello, Dummy!’ peaked at No. 54 on ‘The Billboard 200’ album chart.
He is remembered as the voice of the outspoken and sarcastic ‘Mr. Potato Head’ in the popular ‘Toy Story’ film series.
‘Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project,’ the documentary film based on his life, is one of the best known works of his career. The film received favorable reviews and two ‘Primetime Emmy Awards.’
Awards & Achievements
He received ‘Grammy’ nominations for ‘Best Comedy Recording’ in 1968 and 1969 for ‘Hello, Dummy!’ and ‘Don Rickles Speaks’ respectively.
He was awarded a star on the famous ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ in 2000 for his contribution to live theatre.
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He won an ‘Emmy’ for ‘Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program’ in 2008 for the documentary film ‘Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project.’
Family & Personal Life
Don Rickles married Barbara Sklar on March 14, 1965. They had two children: daughter Mindy and son Larry. Their son died in 2011.
His best friend was Bob Newhart and the two often vacationed together with their wives. They have appeared together on many shows, including ‘Newhart.’
He loved playing golf and tennis during his free time. Going to the movies was also one of his favorite leisure time activities.
Don Rickles died of kidney failure on April 6, 2017, at his home in Beverly Hills, California.
He was an immaculate imitator of Jack E. Leonard.
He made a surprise appearance as the dead husband of ‘Elka’ in the popular comedy series ‘Hot in Cleveland.’
He was friends with Frank Sinatra and Don Adams.