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Donald Jay "Don" Rickles (born May 8, 1926) is an Americanmarker 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. However, unlike many insult comics who only find short-lived success, Rickles has enjoyed a sustained career in insult performance.


Early life and career

Rickles was born in the New York Citymarker borough of Queensmarker to Jewish parents Etta (née Feldman) and Max Rickles. His father was an insurance salesman born in Russiamarker. He grew up in the Jackson Heights area. After graduating from Newtown High School, he served in the U.S. Navy in World War II on the USS Cyrene as a S1/c. He was honorably discharged in 1946. Two years later he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and played occasional bit parts on television. Frustrated by a lack of acting work, he began doing stand-up comedy. He became known as an insult comedian by responding to hecklers. The audience liked these insults more than his prepared material, so he incorporated them into his act. When he began his career in the early 1950s, (he told Jay Leno April 15, 2009 on The Tonight Show) that he started calling ill-mannered members of the audience in burlesque houses a Hockey Puck. His style was similar to an older insult comic, Jack E. Leonard, though Rickles has denied that Leonard influenced his style.



While working in a Miami Beach nightclub known as Murray Franklin's nightclub early in his career, he spotted Frank Sinatra. Rickles said "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 Vegasmarker.

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. Often when he is introduced to an audience or on a television talk show, Spanishmarker matador music, usually "La Virgen de la Macarena", will 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, he 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. The two-part team-up with Don Adams was a sensation well-received by the audience. In an episode of the 1960s drama series Run for Your Life, Rickles played a distressed comedian whose act culminates with him strangling a patron while imploring the patron to "Laugh!" He also appeared in the popular Beach Party film series. He recalled in his memoirs that at a White Housemarker dinner, Barbara Bush teased him about his decision to appear in those films. She asked, "Was your career really going that badly?" He also 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 protagonist.

As his career progressed, he made more and more appearances on television talk shows, first appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1965. He became a frequent guest and even a guest host and would appear over 100 times on The Tonight Show during Carson's era. An early Carson-Rickles Tonight highlight took place 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 Martin's roast specials, which continued until 1984.

In 1968, Rickles came out with the 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, 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 1976, he began starring in the sitcom C.P.O. Sharkey which lasted for two seasons. It is mostly remembered for the cigarette box incident where Johnny Carson visited during a show's taping because he was "incensed" that Rickles had broken his cigarette box while Bob Newhart was guest hosting. This incident was often replayed in Tonight Show retrospectives and was considered a highlight of the 1970s era of the show.

From time to time he appeared as a panelist on Hollywood Squares:
You go down to a brook and you catch a frog.
Then you rub it on your face!
Just what is that supposed to do?

Rickles: That's supposed to put you in the state hospital!

Rickles was also depicted in comic book form by Jack Kirby during his work on the Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen series.


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 stated he would not perform unless Rickles was allowed to perform with him. Rickles considers this performance the highlight of his career.

In 1992, he was cast in the film Innocent Blood, directed by John Landis. In his memoir, Rickles reported that he recalled the then-unknown Landis being a "Production Assistant" to director Brian G. Hutton during the filming of Kelly's Heroes. During the filming of Innocent Blood, he would sometimes tease Landis by yelling at him to go get coffee or to run other errands befitting his one-time "gofer" status.

In 1993, he 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 as Robert De Niro's trusted colleague in Martin Scorsese's Casino, and voicing Mr. Potato Head in the Pixar computer-animated film Toy Story (in which he said the line, "Whatta you lookin' at, ya hockey puck!" to a toy hockey puck). He reprised the latter role in Toy Story 2. In 1998 he portrayed a movie theater manager in "Dirty Work", starring Norm Macdonald and Artie Lange.


Rickles continues to be very active on the stand up comedy scene to this day. He is still a popular performer in Las Vegas and has many dates booked through the end of 2009. He has no plans to retire as he recently said 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."

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 CBS dramatic series, The Unit.

Rickles' memoir, 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 himself won a Primetime Emmy for this documentary in 2008.

Rickles reprised the role of Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story Midway Mania!marker attraction at Disney's California Adventuremarker and Disney's Hollywood Studiosmarker. He will voice the character again in Toy Story 3.

Personal life

Rickles has been married for over 43 years to his wife, Barbara, who is from Philadelphia. They have a daughter, Mindy, a son, Larry, and two grandchildren, Ethan and Harrison Mann. According to Rickles' memoir, his grandchildren are much more impressed by his having played "Mr. Potato Head" than by any of his other career achievements. In 2008, Rickles won two Emmy awards, beating out a number of notable comics, including Stephen Colbert. To this he said, "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 is a life-long Democrat. However, 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. In fact, if one were to drop in at Bob's house, the doormat reads, "The Newharts...The Rickles' best friends." Rickles, Newhart, and their two 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 infamous "cigarette box incident".

Rickles also appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on March 17, 2009, with Regis Philbin who stalked him in search of an interview and later was part of an act with him.

In early 2009, Rickles met Kathy Griffin's mother, Maggie, to fulfill one item on Maggie's "bucket list". The episode aired on July 6, 2009.

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!"



Selected television work


  • Hello Dummy! (1968)
  • Don Rickles Speaks! (1969)


  • Rickles' Book: A Memoir by Don Rickles with David Ritz (Simon & Schuster, 2007), ISBN 978-0-7432-9305-1
  • Rickles' Letters by Don Rickles with David Ritz (Simon & Schuster, 2008), ISBN 978-1416596639

Further reading

  • Rickles' Book: A Memoir by Don Rickles with David Ritz (Simon & Schuster, 2007), ISBN 978-0-7432-9305-1


  3. Witchel, Alex. " I'm No Howard Stern, You Dummy", The New York Times, August 25, 1996. Accessed 2007-10-08.
  4. "The Unit: Sub Conscious", from
  5. John Stewart Can't Win an Emmy for his Showdown with Jim Cramer
  6. "Time Magazine Interview: Don Rickles", from Time Magazine

External links

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