Don Rickles, the preeminent comedian, successful author and – for many decades – provider of firsthand accounts of – and juicy tidbits about – Hollywood Golden Era stars has died at 90.
He was a star among stars and made us and the Hollywood’s greats laugh for decades. His unique sense of humor was a bit crude, brutally honest but consistently funny. To the audience Rickles’ humor often appeared abrasive. Johnny Carson nicknamed him “The Merchant of Venom” and “Mr. Warmth”, but that’s not how Rickles’ perceived his humor. In an interview he said: “If I were to insult people and mean it, that wouldn’t be funny. There is a difference between an actual insult and just having fun.”
And fun he had… mercilessly making fun of everybody. For Don Rickles, no one was off limits regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, social status, fame or fortune. He was an equal opportunity offender.
But that’s not how Rickles’ story begun. He was passionate about dramatic arts and was a classically-trained actor. Frustrated by the lack of dramatic roles, Rickles begun a career as a stand-up comedian in nightclubs. He was struggling and frequently heckled. He was forced to develop some form of self-defense to conceal his vulnerabilities, true feelings and private persona. And he did.
Roles, opportunities and connections eventually rolled in. Don Rickles met – and / or performed with – the “who is who” of Hollywood: Clark Gable, Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds and members of the Rat Pack: Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis as well as Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Carroll O’Connor, Jerry Seinfeld, Betty White, Bob Newhart, and many, many others. He was popular on the big screen and on TV. He entertained several United States Presidents.
Rickles was featured and loved by all late night talk show hosts: Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jimmy Falon, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel…..
(Somewhere in-between his star-studded life, Rickles also served two years in the United States Navy during World War II.)
His career spanned many decades. He mingled with the rich, famous and powerful of the world. He had friends, few can boast. In the year 2000 Hollywood honored him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In the end, Don Rickles had the last laugh. Thanks to hecklers who tried to sabotage his early act, Rickles developed his unique brand and a very successful and long-lasting career. What a life! What a story! May he rest in peace.
Anything L.A. Liberal Magazine’s Entertainment Editor, I. Sturm