Comedy legend Don Rickles dies at 90

Don Rickles, 1926-2017 (AP)
Don Rickles, 1926-2017 (AP)

- Don Rickles died Thursday morning of kidney failure at his home in L.A., Fox News confirmed. The legendary comic and actor was 90. TMZ.com reported that his wife, Barbara, was by his side.

Rickles, who headlined clubs and casinos for decades, was famous for his insult style of comedy and was a master of roasting other celebrities. That earned him the ironic moniker of "Mr. Warmth."

He appeared numerous times on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and "Late Show with David Letterman."

His comedy influenced countless other comics who followed him, though few matched his biting wit or got away with as much as he did, which included jokes centered around ethnic and racial stereotypes, sex, and relationships. Though later in his life, Rickles' jokes didn't always go over that well.

"I shouldn't make fun of the blacks," Rickles said at a tribute to Shirley MacLaine in 2012. "President Obama is a personal friend of mine. He was over to the house yesterday, but the mop broke." The joke prompted both gasps and laughs at the ceremony, but in the age of social media took fire online, prompting significant criticism.

"You know, every night when I go out on stage, there's always one nagging fear in the back of my mind," he told Jay Leno once. "I'm always afraid that somewhere out there, there is one person in the audience that I'm not going to offend."

Rickles and Frank Sinatra became friends and worked together many times over the years. Despite their friendship, Sinatra was not immune to Rickles' comedic insults. The latter rarely held back with any target, including Carson, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and Clint Eastwood.

"I think the reason that [my act] caught on and gave me a wonderful career is that I was never mean-spirited," Rickles once said. "Not that you had to like it, but you had to be under a rock somewhere not to get it."

Rickles had at least 85 acting credits, according to IMDB.com. Most recently he voiced Mr. Potato Head in the "Toy Story" films. 

Donald Jay Rickles was born in 1926 in New York City and grew up in Queens. After high school, he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

After the war ended and he left the military, he studied at American Academy of Dramatic Arts and hoped to become a dramatic actor. Although that didn't quite work out and comedy became his métier, Rickles did have some memorable dramatic roles in his career, notably as the right-hand man to the character played by Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's "Casino."

Rickles and Barbara were married 52 years. They had a daughter and a son, who died in 2011.

In his final tweet, dated March 11, 2017, Rickles paid tribute to his longtime love on their anniversary.

"You are my life," he wrote, calling her "Pussycat."

With the AP

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