The world just got a little colder with the passing of acclaimed comedian and actor Don Rickles, the man sarcastically known as “Mr. Warmth.”
Rickles died Thursday, April 6, at his home in Los Angeles due to kidney failure, according to his publicist. He was 90 years old.
One of the most frequent guests on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Late Show with David Letterman, Rickles rose to fame as a comedian specializing in caustic takedowns of everyone, no matter their social status or celebrity (or lack thereof).
Rickles famously made his mark by targeting Frank Sinatra during a 1957 routine at a Miami Beach nightclub, telling the notoriously hot-tempered singer, “Make yourself at home Frank. Hit somebody.” Rather than fly into a rage, Sinatra embraced Rickles’ routine, and paved the way for Rickles to establish himself as one of the most popular comedians in the industry.
Over the course of a career that spanned more than six decades, Rickles earned the nicknames “The Merchant of Venom” and “Mr. Warmth” for irreverent routines that poked fun at celebrities, ethnicities, religions, and just about every other subject he felt inclined to target. That list included multiple U.S. Presidents, with Rickles performing for both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and serving up insults directed at both White House residents.
Along with his well-established career as a stand-up comedian, Rickles also made a career out of on-screen appearances in various movies and television series over the years.
He famously played black-market war profiteer Staff Sergeant “Crapgame” in 1970’s Kelly’s Heroes alongside Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Carroll O’Connor, and Donald Sutherland. He portrayed Las Vegas casino manager Billy Sherbert in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film Casino, and later went on to voice Mr. Potato Head in all four Toy Story movies and various spinoffs from the animated franchise. (He also voiced the character in both the Toy Story attraction at Disney theme parks and in multiple Toy Story video games.)
On the television side, he had recurring and single-episode guest roles on a long list of shows, including The Twilight Zone, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, and more recently, Hot in Cleveland, in which he played the ex-husband of Betty White’s character in the series. He also starred in two iterations of The Don Rickles Show — one a variety show and the other a scripted sitcom — which each lasted a single season.
Rickles later said of his television work that ongoing, scripted series were generally not suited for his off-the-cuff style of humor.
In 2007, Rickles released his memoir, Rickles’ Book. That same year, celebrated director John Landis helmed the documentary Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project, which won the Primetime Emmy Award for “Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program.”
The comedian is survived by his wife, Barbara Sklar, whom he married in 1965, as well as his daughter Mindy, his son-in-law Ed, and his grandchildren Ethan and Harrison.