Donald Rickles known as Don Rickles was an American stand-up comedian and actor who lived from May 8, 1926, to April 6, 2017. He was known mainly for his insult comedy. His cinematic roles include Clark Gable in Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), Carl Reiner in Entering Laughing (1967), Clint Eastwood in Kelly’s Heroes (1970), and Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995). Rickles featured in the NBC television sitcom C.P.O. Sharkey from 1976 to 1978, after starring in two namesake half-hour programs, an ABC variety show titled The Don Rickles Show (1968) and a CBS sitcom titled The Don Rickles Show (1972).
Rickles rose to prominence as a frequent guest on talk and variety shows such as The Dean Martin Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and The Late Show with David Letterman, and later as the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story franchise. For the documentary Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project, he received a Primetime Emmy Award in 2007. In 2014, he was honored by fellow comedians at the Apollo Theater in a show called Don Rickles: One Night Only, which was taped and broadcast on Spike TV.
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Donald Jay Rickles was born in Queens, New York. Max Rickles and his Lithuanian parents immigrated to the United States in 1903, while his mother Etta Rickles was born in New York City to Austrian immigrants. Rickles grew up in Queens Jackson Heights, where he was raised Jewish. After graduating from Newtown High School in 1944, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served as a seaman during World War II. He was honorably discharged in 1946. After serving in the Navy, Rickles went to the American Academy of Serious Arts to pursue his dream of becoming a dramatic actor.
He became upset with the dearth of acting prospects after playing little parts on TV and began performing at comedy clubs in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. When he responded to hecklers, he quickly became recognized as an insult comedian; the audience seemed to appreciate the insults shouted at them more than his prepared material, so he made it a part of his act.
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Rickles spent over two decades working in nightclubs. Don made his film debut in 1958 with the war movie Run Silent, Run Deep. Rickles continued to act after the film’s success, appearing in films such as X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963), Bikini Beach (1964), Enter Laughing (1967), and Kelly’s Heroes (1970).
From 1973 until 1984, Don continued to disseminate his style of comedy as a regular on Dean Martin’s Celebrity Roasts. On the show, he frequently paid tribute to some of his pals, like Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Lucille Ball, and was even the roastmaster for Dean Martin himself. Don starred as an acid-tongued US Navy officer in the 1976 television series “CPO Sharkey,” which ran for two years.
Rickles began playing in Las Vegas performances with Steve Lawrence in the early 1980s. In 1983, they co-hosted the show “Foul-Ups, Bleeps & Blunders.” Don began taking it easy after 1984, starring in a few minor film parts. He was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. When Frank Sinatra was requested to play at Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural gala in 1985, he insisted on performing unprepared.
This was Rickles’ favorite performance of his entire career. Don appears in an episode named “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” in season two of “Tales from the Crypt” in 1990. He starred in director John Landis’ film “Innocent Blood” in 1992. He and Richard Lewis co-starred in the short-lived sitcom “Daddy Dearest” in 1993.
Don made a spectacular reappearance in 1995, playing opposite Tom Hanks and Tim Allen in the animated Pixar film Toy Story, after taking a decade or two off. In the same year, he played Billy Sherbert in Martin Scorcese’s “Casino,” another critically acclaimed movie. In Toy Story 2, he reprised his role as the grumpy Mr. Potato Head four years later. Rickles played George Wilson in “Dennis the Menace Strikes Again” in 1998. Rickles played a movie theater manager in “Dirty Work” later that year.
Don Rickles made a guest appearance on an episode of “The Unit” in February 2007. The next year, on his birthday, May 8, 2007, he published “Rickles’ Book,” a narrative of his life. On December 2, 2007, HBO premiered “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project,” a documentary on Rickles directed by John Landis. Rickles knocked out heavyweights like David Letterman, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert to win a Primetime Emmy for his appearances in the documentary Individual Performance in a Variety Program.
Don Rickles reprised his role as Mr. Potato Head in “Toy Story 3” in 2010. He was supposed to reprise his role in “Toy Story 4,” but he died before the filming began. The movie was made in his honor. Rickles’ unused archive recordings were used for the 2019 film honoring him with his family’s approval.
Rickles continued to appear on various late-night talk shows in the final years and months of his life. Rickles’ 88th birthday was celebrated in 2014 with a television special called “One Night Only: An All-Star Tribute to Don Rickles,” which featured a variety of celebrities.
Jerry Seinfeld, Robert De Niro, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Regis Philbin, Nathan Lane, David Letterman, and a slew of other celebrities paid tribute. Rickles, together with George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Bill Cosby, was dubbed the “Mount Rushmore of Stand-up Comedy” by Seinfeld. He was a guest on one of the final episodes of “The Late Show with David Letterman” on May 11, 2015.
Don Rickles has a net worth of $30 million as a stand-up comedian and actor in the United States.
Don purchased a 1-acre property in Malibu, California for $1.875 million in 2003. The home, which is in a gated community, has a lighted tennis court, a wide green yard, and keys to a private beach. Rickles put the house on the market in December 2016 for $8 million. A few months following his death, his heirs sold the house for $6.5 million. Equinox fitness clubs’ founder was the buyer. When the new owner is not living in the house, he rents it out for $25,000 a month.
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Don Rickles married Barbara Sklar of Philadelphia on March 14, 1965. He claimed to have a hard time finding love in his 20s and 30s, meeting Sklar through his agency when he was 38 and falling for her when she didn’t get his sense of humor.
They had two children, Mindy, an actress, and Larry, a producer who died at the age of 41 from pneumonia. Rickles’ grandchildren Ethan and Harrison Mann, according to his memoir, were far more impressed by his role as Mr. Potato Head than by any of his previous accomplishments. On March 14, 2021, Barbara Rickles died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, exactly 56 years after the pair married.
Following a performance at the Copacabana in 1972, Rickles became friends with mobster “Crazy” Joe Gallo. Joe, whom Rickles had ruthlessly mocked during his set despite being instructed not to, took Rickles’ ribbings in stride and asked him to Umberto’s Clam House afterward. Rickles turned down the offer. Gallo was killed in a gunfight at Umberto’s that night.
Rickles performed with his friend Frank Sinatra at the inaugurations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, despite being a “lifelong” Democrat. He regarded Bob Newhart to be his best buddy, and the two frequently vacationed together with their wives.
On January 24, 2005, the Monday after Johnny Carson’s death, Rickles and Newhart reunited together on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, reminiscing about their many guest appearances on Carson’s show. They also appeared together on Newhart, a television sitcom, and in past episodes of The Tonight Show, where Newhart or Rickles were guest hosts.
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Don Rickles’s Death
Don Rickles died of kidney failure on April 6, 2017, one month before his 91st birthday, at the age of 90, at his home in Los Angeles, California. Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery was where he was laid to rest.