Report by Paula Antolini
April 6, 2017 4:00PM EDT
Don Rickles, Legendary Insult Comedian, Dies at 90
Don Rickles, the legendary comedian known for his insults, whose career spanned six decades, died at age 90 on Thursday at his home in Los Angeles.
Rickles died from kidney failure, his longtime publicist Paul Shefrin confirmed, Variety reports, and multiple other news sources.
Rickles was widely known for his “insult comic” style, a trademark that grew out of his responses to hecklers in the early days of his stand-up act. He began calling those hecklers “hockey pucks,” and the shtick that would earn Rickles the nickname Mr. Warmth was born.
Rickles won the admiration of many fellow stars, including an early stamp of approval from Frank Sinatra, who found his insults hilarious. Other fans included Johnny Carson, whose “Tonight Show” saw Rickles as a guest more than 100 times, and Ed McMahon, who endured the on-screen ribbing from his friend with a smile.
As Rickles’ stand-up career took off, he made the jump to movies, beginning with a serious role in “Run Silent, Run Deep.” But plenty of laughs were to come in his movie career, with some favorite films including the “Beach Party” series and “Kelly’s Heroes.” Rickles also became a fixture of TV: hosting his own program, “The Don Rickles Show,” contributing regularly to “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast” specials, stopping by game shows and series for guest spots, and starring on the sitcom “C.P.O. Sharkey.”
Rickles’ career didn’t slow down much as the millennium dawned. He took a high-profile voice-acting gig when he became the voice of Mr. Potato Head in “Toy Story” and its two sequels, had roles in movies including “Dirty Work” and “Quest for Camelot,” and won an Emmy for a guest performance on “The Unit.” He made a memorable appearance on “Hot in Cleveland” as the late husband of Betty White’s character, and he continued making the rounds of talk shows, from “Late Show With David Letterman” to “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” to “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson.” He continued to work well into his 80s, preferring the energy of regular work to settling down in retirement.
Rickles was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as a TV Land Legend Award and a Johnny Carson Award for Comedic Excellence from the Comedy Awards. He is survived by his wife, Barbara Sklar, his daughter, Mindy, and two grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son, Larry Rickles.
Many people paid tribute to the great comic on social media.
“He was called ‘The Merchant of Venom,’ but in truth, he was one of the kindest, caring and most sensitive human beings we have ever known. We are devastated and our world will never be the same. We were totally unprepared for this.” – Bob and Ginnie Newhart in a statement.
Bob Saget: “My friend, my dad, the funniest biggest hearted of them all. A beautiful husband and father. My heart is broken. Rest In Peace. Don Rickles.”
Kevin Pollak: “Don Rickles created a style of stand up and owned (!!!) it his entire career of 60+ years. It’s unparalleled. No, I mean, NO ONE did that.”
“Farewell to a comedic legend & dear friend, Don Rickles. I know you’re cracking them up in the Great Beyond!” – Samuel L. Jackson via Instagram.
Shaun Cassidy: “For her last birthday, I bought my wife two tickets to see Don Rickles. “These aren’t for me, they’re for YOU!” Guilty as charged.”
Barbara Eden: “Don Rickles, such sharp hilarious wit in an era when an insult comic didn’t need to be vulgar to be funny. You will be missed -B”
Patton Oswalt: “In lieu of flowers, Don Rickles’ family has requested that people drop their pants & fire a rocket”
U.S. Department of Defense: “Fair winds and following seas to @USNavy veteran & comedian @DonRickles who passed away today at the age of 90.” #RIP
Elayne Boosler: “RIP Don Rickles. Brilliant, original comedy genius, touching actor, great human. His act worked due to his true heart/humanity.”