Legendary comedian Don Rickles, who’s acerbic put downs made him a beloved Hollywood icon, has died at the age of 90.
The man sarcastically known as “Mr Warmth” for his derisive brand of comedy, died of liver failure at his Los Angeles home, his long-time publicist Paul Shefrin confirmed Friday morning AEST.
Rickles’ career spanned more than 60 years on the stage, television and movie screens.
A veteran of dozens of movies dating from the 1950s and a Las Vegas regular, he is best known to newer audiences as the voice of Mr Potato Head from Pixar’s Toy Story franchise.
No one was exempt from Rickles’ insults, which targeted paying customers, presidents and fellow celebrities such as close friends Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Johnny Carson.
Despite a disregard for political correctness that would end the career of any aspiring modern comic, Rickles was idolised by his colleagues, from Joan Rivers and Louis CK, to Chris Rock and Sarah Silverman.
Billy Crystal tweeted simply: “A giant loss”.
Some reaction to Rickles’ death matched his comedy style.
“In lieu of flowers, Don Rickles’ family has requested that people drop their pants and fire a rocket,” Patton Oswald tweeted.
James Caan once said that Rickles helped inspire the blustering Sonny Corleone of “The Godfather.” An HBO special was directed by John Landis of Animal House fame and included tributes from Clint Eastwood, Sidney Poitier and Robert De Niro.
Carl Reiner would say he knew he had made it in Hollywood when Rickles made fun of him.
No subjects were taboo for Rickles – ethnic jokes, sex jokes, ageism – but he somehow let everyone know it was for fun.
He said that America needed Italians “to keep the cops busy” and blacks “so we can have cotton in the drugstore,” and that “Asians are nice people, but they burn a lot of shirts.” He might ask a man in the audience, “Is that your wife?” and, when the man answered yes, respond: “Oh, well. Keep your chin up.”
“I think the reason that [my act] caught on and gave me a wonderful career is that I was never mean-spirited,” Rickles once said. “Not that you had to like it, but you had to be under a rock somewhere not to get it.”
Rickles got his big break, according to legend, when Sinatra and some of his friends saw him perform live in 1957.
“Make yourself at home, Frank,” Rickles told the volatile Sinatra, whom he had never met. “Hit somebody.”
Sinatra is said to have laughed so hard, he fell out of his seat.
Rickles was soon being championed by Sinatra, Martin and the other members of the show business circle known as the Rat Pack.
In 1965, Rickles made the first of numerous appearances on The Tonight Show, treating Johnny Carson with his trademark disdain, to the audience’s delight.
Rickles was born in Queens, New York on May 8, 1926, to Max Rickles, an insurance salesman, and the former Etta Feldman.
During World War II he served in the Navy before following his father into the insurance business but, eventually turned to acting.
He studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, but he found it difficult to get acting jobs and turned to stand-up comedy.
He shared an apartment with his mother and did not marry until he was almost 40. After marrying Barbara Sklar in 1965, he saw to it that his mother had the apartment next door. His wife survives him, as do a daughter, Mindy Mann, and two grandchildren. Mr. Rickles’s son, Lawrence, died in 2011.
– With news agencies