Just now we’re learning that the legendary insult comic Don Rickles has passed away at the age of 90. In the interview above from 2007, Rickles talks to Charlie Rose about his career and the memoir he released that year.
Born in New York City to Austrian immigrants, Rickles served in World War II before being trained as an actor. Unable to get much work, Rickles started doing standup comedy in clubs. Imagine that situation for someone fresh in the trade – there were hecklers, but Don Rickles gave as good as he got, and became famous for his insults. Over the years, he earned the nicknames “The Merchant of Venom” and “Mr. Warmth” and Frank Sinatra helped him reach bigger audiences.
Rickles’s first movie appearance was the submarine thriller Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) and he continued making mostly TV appearances throughout the following decades, especially on talkshows, obviously an essential part of his career as a comedian. Another notable big-screen appearance though was as Crapgame in Kelly’s Heroes (1970), a movie that became very popular. Rickles also did the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story films.
Still, we’ll remember Rickles primarily for his old-fashioned insult comedy. Old-fashioned, because so many jokes revolved around his wife. But ultimately that kind of comedy, where you go after the people you actually love, never grows old; celebrities are still roasted, after all. It happened to Sinatra in 1978 on NBC, with Rickles as one of the roasters. A classic clip; note Ronald Reagan’s presence as one of the roasters, mocked by Rickles for his presidential ambitions two years before his election as the 40th President of the United States.
He was booked by talkshow hosts right up until his death and knew how to deliver a barb. Judging from the mourning we see now in Hollywood, Don Rickles was nevertheless loved.