According to Variety, legendary actor and comedian Don Rickles, known for his biting insults, has passed away today from what appears to be kidney failure. He was 90 years old.
Born May 8, 1926, Rickles joined the Navy after high school and fought in World War II. Two years after his honorable discharge in 1946, he attended The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and started getting bit parts on television shows. After becoming frustrated with how little acting work he was getting, Rickles began doing stand-up comedy. He quickly became well known for yelling insults back at his hecklers, something audiences enjoyed even more than his pre-written material. His two most famous insults/catch phrases were “dummy” and “hockey puck“.
While working at a Miami Beach nightclub called Murray Franklin’s, Rickles spotted Frank Sinatra in the audience, and immediately began to tease him during the act, with comments like “I just saw your movie, The Pride and the Passion and I want to tell you, the cannon’s acting was great.” Sinatra loved it so much that he began to encourage his celebrity friends to see Rickles perform and get insulted. Over time he helped get Rickles established as a headline performer in Las Vegas. Rickles and Sinatra maintained a strong friendship, and Rickles was often seen in the company of The Rat Pack. The two even performed together at President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration, which Rickles called the highlight of his career.
In 1958, Rickles made his film debut, with a serious role in Run Silent, Run Deep. Other film roles included the Beach Party series, the original Rat Race, and Martin Scorsese’s Casino. In recent years, he voiced Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story franchise.
On TV, Rickles attempted several times to headline his own show, but never had any project run longer than two seasons. He did far better as a guest star on various popular series. Some of his many appearances were on Get Smart, The Twilight Zone, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, I Love Lucy, and Gilligan’s Island. Recently, he played the role of Bobby – husband of Betty White’s Elka – in a two episode stint on Hot in Cleveland.
Where Rickles was best known to film and TV audiences was in his more than 100 appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and for his biting insults on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts specials.
Rickles is survived by his wife Barbara, two children, and two grandchildren.
R.I.P. Don Rickles – May 8, 1926 – April 6, 2017