Comedian And Actor Don Rickles Dies, Aged 90

Don Rickles

by James White |
Published on

Don Rickles, the comedian and actor who became as famous for his cutting insults as for his excellent timing, has died. He was 90.

Rickles was born in New York in 1926 to an insurance salesman father and housewife mother, and grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens. Before he could forge any career path for himself, he was called up to the US Navy during World War II and served in the Philippines. "When I got out of high school back in the '40s, I had to go to a thing called a war against Japan," he recalled. "What did I know then? I was still trying to figure out why I had pimples."

After the war, he attempted to make a go of it as a salesman, hawking air conditioners, insurance and women's cosmetics door to door. But it was when he was delivering meat and cleaning his local butcher's shop that he decided to give acting a try. He applied to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and was somewhat surprised to get in, learning alongside the likes of Jason Robards and Anne Bancroft.

Yet drama was not to be Rickles' calling – after graduation, he failed to win roles on Broadway and decided to change paths to comedy. In 1951, he landed an agent who got him small stand-up gigs in even smaller clubs, but eventually graduated on to bigger things when he arrived in Los Angeles in the late 1950s. Rickles gained notoriety for taking pot-shots at celebrities in his audience, and from there nabbed his first acting role: surprisingly, in a drama, 1958 World War II submarine movie Run Silent Run Deep.

From there, his on-screen career blossomed, and he'd go on to appear in movies such as Beach Blanket Bingo, Kelly's Heroes, Casino and, more memorably for younger audiences, voicing Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story films, the fourth of which will be out in 2019.

On the small screen, he had his own short-lived variety show and made two attempts to star in sitcoms. He also won roles on series such as Get Smart, The Lucy Show, The Addams Family and The Twilight Zone. "The stand-up is what paid for the house and the car and all the good things in life," he once told the San Francisco Chronicle. "The movies and television have been a bonus for me." Perhaps the best portrait of Rickles, in all his prickly glory, can be found in 2007 documentary Mr. Warmth, which explores his background and features a wealth of friends and those who have been the target of his wit talking about him.

He's survived by Barbara, his wife of 52 years, their daughter Mindy and two grandchildren.

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