Donald Jay "Don" Rickles (born May 8, 1926) is an American stand-up comedian and actor. A frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Rickles has acted in comedic and dramatic roles, but is best known as an insult comic.
Rickles was born in the New York City borough of Queens to Max Rickles, who had emigrated in 1902 with his parents Joseph and Frances Rickles (Rikhters) from Kaunas, Lithuania (then in the Russian Empire), and Etta (Feldman) Rickles, born in New York to immigrant parents from the Austrian Empire. His family was Jewish and spoke Yiddish at home. Rickles grew up in theJackson Heights area.
After graduating from Newtown High School, Rickles enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served during World War II on the USS Cyrene as aseaman first class. He was honorably discharged in 1946. Two years later, he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and then played bit parts on television. Frustrated by a lack of acting work, Rickles began doing stand-up comedy performing in hotels in the Catskill Mountains in New York. He became known as an insult comedian by responding to his hecklers. The audience enjoyed these insults more than his prepared material, and he incorporated them into his act. When he began his career in the early 1950s he started calling ill-mannered members of the audience a "hockey puck". His style was similar to an older insult comic, "Mr. Warmth"Jack E. Leonard, though Rickles denies that Leonard influenced his style.
While working in a Miami Beach nightclub known as "Murray Franklin's" early in his career, he spotted Frank Sinatra and remarked to him, "I just saw your movie, The Pride and the Passion and I want to tell you, the cannon's acting was great." He added, "Make yourself at home, Frank. Hit somebody!" Sinatra, whose pet name for Rickles was "bullet-head", enjoyed Rickles so much that he encouraged other celebrities to see Rickles' act and be insulted by him. Sinatra's support helped Rickles become a popular headline performer in Las Vegas.
Rickles earned the nicknames "The Merchant of Venom" and "Mr. Warmth" for his insult comedy, in which he pokes fun at people of all ethnicities and walks of life. When he is introduced to an audience or on a television talk show, Spanish matador music, "La Virgen de la Macarena", will usually be played, subtly foreshadowing that someone is about to be metaphorically gored. Rickles has said, "I always pictured myself facing the audience as the matador."
In 1958, Rickles made his film debut in a serious part in Run Silent, Run Deep starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. Throughout the 1960s, he appeared frequently on television in sitcoms and dramatic series. Rickles guest-starred in Get Smart as "Sid", an old war buddy of Max who comes to stay with him. In an episode of the 1960s drama series Run for Your Life, Rickles played a distressed comedian whose act culminates when he strangles a patron while imploring the patron to "Laugh!" Rickles took a dramatic turn in the Roger Corman film X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes as a carnival barker out to exploit the title character.
Rickles also appeared in the popular Beach Party film series. He recalled in his memoirs that at a White House dinner,Barbara Bush teased him about his decision to appear in those films, and remarked "Was your career really going that badly?". Rickles' agent, Jack Gilardi, was married to Annette Funicello when Rickles was cast in the Beach Party films.
As his career progressed, Rickles began appearing more frequently on television talk shows, first appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1965. He became a frequent guest and guest host, appearing more than 100 times on The Tonight Show during Carson's era. An early Carson-Rickles Tonight highlight occurred in 1968 when, while two Japanese women treated Carson to a bath and massage by foot, Rickles walked onto the set. At one point, he decided to play massage therapist to the prone and towel-clad Carson. Rickles leaned over and wrapped his arms around Carson, ad-libbing, "I'm so lonely, Johnny!" Carson broke into hysterical laughter, got up, grabbed Rickles, and tossed the suit-clad comedian into the bathtub. Rickles also made frequent appearances on The Dean Martin Show and became a fixture on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts specials, which continued until 1984.
In 1968, Rickles released a live comedy album, Hello, Dummy!, which reached #54 on Billboard's Hot 100. The same year he starred in his own variety show on ABC, The Don Rickles Show, with comedy writer Pat McCormick as his sidekick. The show lasted one season. During the 1960s, Rickles made guest appearances on The Dick Van Dyke Show,The Munsters, The Addams Family, The Mothers -in- Law, Gilligan's Island, Get Smart, The Andy Griffith Show and I Dream of Jeannie.
In 1970, Rickles had a notable role as the con man Sgt. Crapgame in the hit film Kelly's Heroes with Clint Eastwood. In 1972, he starred in the sitcom The Don Rickles Show which lasted for thirteen episodes. He also starred in a series of television specials. In his memoir, Rickles acknowledged that a scripted sitcom was not well-suited to his ad-lib style of performing. In 1973 Don Rickles was a popular comedian at The Dean Martin Roasts.
In 1976, he starred in the sitcom C.P.O. Sharkey, which lasted two seasons. The show is primarily remembered for the cigarette box incident when Johnny Carson visited during an episode's taping because he was "incensed" that Rickles broke his cigarette box while Bob Newhart was guest-hosting. The incident was often replayed in Tonight Showretrospectives and was considered a highlight of the 1970s era of the show.
Rickles occasionally appeared as a panelist on Hollywood Squares and was depicted in comic book form by Jack Kirby during his work on the Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsenseries.
In the early 1980s, Rickles began performing with singer Steve Lawrence in concerts in Las Vegas. In 1983, the duo co-hosted the short-lived ABC-TV series Foul-Ups, Bleeps & Blunders, an imitation of NBC's TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes.
In 1985, when Frank Sinatra was asked to perform at Ronald Reagan's Second Inaugural Ball, he stipulated he would not perform unless Rickles was allowed to perform with him. Rickles considers this performance the highlight of his career.
In 1990, he appeared in the second season of Tales From the Crypt in the episode "The Ventriloquist's Dummy".
In 1992, he was cast in the film Innocent Blood, directed by John Landis. In his memoir, Rickles wrote that he recalled that Landis was once a "Production Assistant" to directorBrian G. Hutton during the filming of Kelly's Heroes. During the filming of Innocent Blood, Rickles would kid Landis by ordering him to get coffee or to run other errands befitting his one-time "gofer" status.
In 1993, Rickles starred in another short-lived sitcom, Daddy Dearest, with comedian Richard Lewis. In 1995, he made a return to film in two high-profile projects: a dramatic role asRobert De Niro's trusted colleague in Martin Scorsese's Casino, and voicing Mr. Potato Head in the Pixar computer-animated film Toy Story. He reprises the latter role in Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3. In 1998 he portrayed a movie theater manager in Dirty Work, starring Norm Macdonald and Artie Lange. Again in 1998, he was the voice of Cornwall, one of the heads of a two-headed dragon, in the movie "Quest for Camelot".
To this day, Rickles continues to be very active on the stand-up comedy scene and has no plans to retire, as he recently stated in an interview: "I'm in good health. I'm working better than I ever have. The audiences are great. Why should I retire? I'm like a fighter. The bell rings and you come out and fight. My energy comes alive. And I still enjoy it." At 87, he continues to be a frequent guest on late night talk shows, including the Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.
In February 2007, Rickles made a cameo appearance as himself in a strange, recurring dream sequence that was woven through an episode titled "Sub Conscious" of the CBSdramatic series, The Unit.
Rickles' memoir, titled Rickles' Book, was released on May 8, 2007 by Simon & Schuster. Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project, a documentary about Rickles directed by John Landis, made its debut on HBO on December 2, 2007. Rickles won an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program " besting a number of notable comics, including David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. To this Rickles remarked, "Stephen Colbert's a funny man, but he's too young. He has got plenty of time to win awards, but this may be my last year and I think that I made it count. On second thought it was probably just a mercy award for an old man."
Rickles reprised the role of Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story Midway Mania! attraction at Disney California Adventure Park and Disney's Hollywood Studios. He voiced the character again in Toy Story 3.
In 2009, Rickles appeared on Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List and met Griffin's mother, Maggie, to fulfill one item on Maggie's "bucket list".
In 2010, he appeared in a commercial during Super Bowl XLIV as a talking rose.
On June 27, 2010, he appeared on the 37th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards on CBS TV.
In 2011, Rickles joined Joe Pesci in a Snickers advertisement highlighting the actors known for their "short fuses." Also in 2011, he made a surprise appearance as the late husband of Elka (Betty White) on the TV Land original comedy Hot in Cleveland—a "surprise" because Rickles' character was thought to be dead.
It is well known that Rickles has nothing against the people that he insults during his routine, and that it is all just part of the act. Although sarcastically nicknamed "Mr. Warmth" due to his offensive and insensitive stage personality, in reality most know him to be actually quite genial and pleasant. It has been said that being insulted by Rickles is like "wearing a badge of honor."
When asked by an interviewer if he ever worried that his insult comedy might ever become too offensive, Rickles replied, "You know, every night when I go out on stage to do my comedy routines, there's always one nagging fear in the back of my mind. I'm always afraid that somewhere out there, there is one person in the audience that I'm NOT going to offend!"
Rickles is known for lackadaisically saying the word "anyway" and "let me tell ya this," following most of his comedic insults, in order to appear nonchalant about the comic volley he had just thrown at an audience member, show host, etc. This is widely regarded as one of Rickles' classic comedic tactics that contribute to his impeccable sense of timing.
Rickles has been married for 47 years to his wife, Barbara, who was raised in Philadelphia. The couple had two children; a daughter Mindy, and a son, producer Larry Rickles, who died in December 2011 at the age of 41. According to Rickles' memoir, his grandchildren, Ethan and Harrison Mann, are much more impressed by his role as "Mr. Potato Head" than by any of his other achievements. Although a lifelong Democrat, he performed at the inaugurations of Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush with his friend Frank Sinatra.
Rickles considers comedian Bob Newhart to be his best friend. Rickles, Newhart, and their wives often vacation together. Rickles and Newhart appeared together on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on January 24, 2005, the Monday following Johnny Carson's death, reminiscing about their many guest appearances on Carson's show, including footage of the "cigarette box incident".