Legendary comedian Don Rickles dies, leaves behind witty legacy

Hollywood suffered another true loss. At 90 years old, legendarily abrasive comedian Don Rickles died in his home in Beverly Hills on April 6 due to kidney failure, as confirmed by his publicist Paul Shefrin. Rickles is survived by his wife Barbara Sklar and his daughter Mindy Rickles.

After serving in the navy during World War II, Rickles followed in his father’s footsteps, working in the insurance industry after the war. He quickly discovered, however, that insurance wasn’t for him, and instead pursued acting. 

He attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, but found pursuing acting to be difficult, so he turned to comedy instead. 

Rickles’ career spanned an amazing 60 years, his hilariously crude humor and wild insults never getting old. He appeared on television and in movies, but mainly at nightclubs where he would hurl insults at audience members without holding back.

His fame began to flourish when he met singer Frank Sinatra—member of the musical group The Rat Pack—at Slate Brothers nightclub in Los Angeles. The two became fast friends, as Sinatra helped Rickles gain fame. Rickles then went on to use America’s favorite singer as a punching bag in some of his most successful routines.

After a decade of Las Vegas performances, Rickles finally broke free from typical nightclub appearances. He landed his first film role in 1958 in director Robert Wise’s Run Silent, Run Deep. In addition, he found himself in some guest appearances on television programs, such as “Bikini Beach” and “Beach Blanket Bingo.”

Rickles really broke out into television in 1965, when he appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and later Dean Martin’s comedic roasts. He even tried his hand at a variety show in 1968 and a situational comedy in 1972, both called “The Don Rickles Show,” though they were both short-lived, along with 1993 sitcom “Daddy Dearest.” 

Despite his success, Rickles’ comedic style was not always favored. In the 1970s and 80s, his crude humor was not popular. Just as his fame seemed to be waning, however, a new generation of comedians burst onto the comedy scene to compliment Rickles’ signature style. 

Later in life, he starred in Martin Scorsese’s Casino with stars, such as Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone. Some modern audiences might also know him as the comical and outspoken Mr. Potato Head in Pixar’s Toy Story films. 

Rickles also published a memoir, Rickles’ Book, in 2007, which was later the subject of an HBO documentary titled, Mr: Warmth: The Don Rickles Project. The documentary won an Emmy award, and Rickles gained a new nickname that stuck—Mr. Warmth. 

While Rickles began to suffer from health issues, he never stopped working or performing in his own shows, the occasional concert and television appearances. He even appeared as one of the last guests on the “Late Show with David Letterman” in May 2015.

Whether it’s for his irresistibly funny insults or his hilariously cranky Mr. Potato Head, Rickles is sure to be remembered as one of comedy’s greats.