LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Legendary comedian Don Rickles, known for his acerbic wit and rapid-fire insult humor that made him a favorite on the late-night talk show circuit and at celebrity roasts, died today (Thursday, April 6) at age 90.
Rickles died at his Los Angeles home of kidney failure, according to his publicist, Paul Shefrin.
A favorite of Johnny Carson and David Letterman, Rickles was famed for hurling comedic insults at just about everyone — big stars, political figures and even members of his own audience.
Born in Queens, New York, Rickles originally wanted to be a dramatic actor, but he did stand-up comedy to make money. It was during those stints that he discovered his talent for hilariously lashing out at hecklers in the audience. He wound up making it a trademark of his act, and it made him a star.
Nobody was immune from Rickles’ barbs. He famously earned big laughs from Frank Sinatra when Rickles spotted the crooner in the audience while he was performing, and Rickles said, “Make yourself at home, Frank. Hit somebody.”
Rickles was known for referring to his hecklers as “hockey pucks.” His wit earned him the sarcastic nicknames “Mr. Warmth” and “The Merchant of Venom.’
Despite his comedic background, Rickles made a series of film and television appearances in dramatic roles, beginning with “Run Silent, Run Deep” in 1958 and “The Rat Race.” He also had a prominent role in Clint Eastwood’s war-time heist film “Kelly’s Heroes” and appeared with Annette Funicello in several of her “Beach” movies, including “Beach Blanket Bingo.”
He also portrayed an enforcer in director Martin Scorsese’s “Casino,” and lent his voice to Mr. Potato Head in the “Toy Story” film series.
He made guest appearances on dozens of television shows, including “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Get Smart,” “Sanford and Son” and, more recently, “Hot in Cleveland.”
Rickles and his wife of 52 years, Barbara Sklar, were close friends and frequent companions of actor/comedian Bob Newhart and his wife, Ginnie. The Newharts said they were “devastated” by the news.“
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,” the Newharts said in a joint statement. “We are devastated and our world will never be the same. We were totally unprepared for this.”
Comedian Billy Crystal called Rickles’ death “a giant loss,” while actor/comedian Fred Willard wrote on his Twitter page that Rickles “made me laugh harder and longer than anyone. He was the reason to go to Las Vegas, to watch a talk show. A legend.”
Talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel wrote, “90 years with Don Rickles weren’t
enough. One of the sweetest and most lovely people I had the pleasure of knowing. We miss you already.” Larry King called Rickles “a national treasure.”
Rickles and Sklar had two children. Their son, Larry, died in 2011.
Funeral services are expected to be private. Donations can be made to the Larry Rickles Endowment Fund at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.