The Emmy-Award winning comedian is survived by his wife of 52 years, Barbara, who was reportedly by his side at the time of his death, and his daughter, Mindy Mann. He would have turned 91 on May 8.
Rickles was an industry mainstay since the early ‘60s, first making a name for himself in the nightclub scene due to his brash sense of humor. He often poked fun at Hollywood greats like Frank Sinatra, earning the title of “the father of insult comedy.”
He rose to fame as a frequent guest on “The Tonight Show” and “The Dean Martin Show” after appearing on a slew of TV programs throughout the decade, including “Get Smart,” “The Munsters,” “The Addams Family” and “Gilligan’s Island.”
“The Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson is largely credited with giving the comedian his nickname, “Mr. Warmth,” which was the title of the 2007 documentary about his career, directed by John Landis.
“I started out like a million other guys, doing jokes and doing impressions – I had a lousy act,” Rickles told Milwaukee Magazine last year about his start in Hollywood. “I can’t tell jokes too well. I didn’t make it, I wasn’t going any place. By accident I started talking to the audience ― talking about myself, exaggerating things about my mother, my life ― and people started laughing. I thought, ‘Hey, this is a good thing’ and I kept doing it.”
Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, Rickles headlined a handful of TV series, including the short-lived “Kibbe Hates Fitch,” “The Don Rickles Show” and “C.P.O. Sharkey,” but found more success on the big screen and for his regular stand-up shows on the Las Vegas strip.
He had an extensive career playing supporting characters in “Pajama Party,” “Beach Blanket Bingo,” Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” and perhaps his most popular and profitable role, Mr. Potato Head in the “Toy Story” franchise.
Over the course of his decadeslong run, Rickles’ sense of humor, an acquired taste to say the least, went in an out of vogue. His jokes about minority groups drew ire in recent years ― a particularly off-color comment about Obama stands out ― but Rickles’ legacy remains mostly intact.
“He was not afraid to cross the line. He attacked! He had no respect for any person, and he was doing his thing to everybody — black, white, Jewish, Asian. I fell in love with him,” the late Bernie Mac said of Rickles in 2004. “I saw the joke, you know? My family saw the joke. My old grandfather, who came from the South — even he got Rickles. He was like, ‘This mofo is crazy.’”
In 2014, comedy greats like Jon Stewart Jerry Seinfeld and David Letterman, who have all cited Rickles as a major influence, gathered for Spike’s “One Night Only: An All-Star Comedy Tribute to Don Rickles” to honor his work.
Funeral services will be private, and the family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Larry Rickles Endowment Fund at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
R.I.P., Don Rickles.