Don Rickles, the iconic spitfire insult comic, died at his home in Los Angeles Thursday, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 90. The cause of death was kidney failure, according to Rickles’ publicist.
For over 60 years, Rickles tore into celebrities, public figures and, especially, fans who happily paid for a chance to be burned by comic nicknamed “Mr. Warmth” and the “Merchant of Venom.” While Rickles began his career as a more traditional comic, he realized early that his audience responded most to the ad-libbed barbs he’d throw at hecklers. As his career was beginning in the early Fifties, Rickles came up with a term for anyone lucky enough to be on the receiving end of one of his insults: “Hockey puck.”
That same decade, Rickles got his big break in show business, fittingly after insulting Frank Sinatra at a Miami Beach nightclub. Sinatra became a fast fan and helped Rickles land his first gig in Las Vegas, where he’d remain a headliner throughout his career. He remained close to Sinatra as well.
In 1985, when Ronald Reagan asked the crooner to perform at his second Inaugural Ball, Sinatra demanded Rickles perform as well. “It’s a big treat for me to fly all the way from California to be here for this kind of money,” Rickles cracked to the President, before dropping his mic and rubbing his face in shame.
Rickles was a relentless touring stand-up and was on the road with Regis Philbin as recently as last year. He was a favorite late-night TV guest, regularly visiting Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and The Late Show With David Letterman. However, the comedian also amassed numerous credits in film and TV. From 1976 to 1978, he starred in his own NBC series, CPO Sharkey, in which he played a cantankerous Navy officer, while he was a regular guest star on countless programs from The Twilight Zone to The Beverly Hillbillies to The Bernie Mac Show. Among his various film credits, Rickles appeared in Casino and memorably voiced Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story franchise.
This story is developing.