Don Rickles dead at 90

The comedian achieved fame by insulting Sinatra to his face, with his career spanning 60 years.


One of America’s best loved stand-up comedians has died at the age of 90 of kidney failure.

Don Rickles, whose career spanned 60 years and included appearances in films and comedy TV shows, was better known in later life as the voice of Mr Potato Head in the Toy Story movies.

However, he was, first and foremost, an “insult comic”, with his big career break coming in 1957 with a famous barb directed at Frank Sinatra.

When the singing star came to the club where Rickles was performing, the comedian told him: “Make yourself at home – hit somebody”.

Soon Rickles became an unofficial member of the singer’s rat pack, the friendship lasting for decades; in 1985, when Frank Sinatra was asked to perform at Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural ball, he demanded that Mr Rickles also be allowed to perform. The comic received the nicknames “Mr Warmth” and the “Merchant of Venom”, both references to his ability to comically skewer his intended targets.

One of the most famous anecdotes concerning him used to be told by Sinatra himself. According to the singer, the comedian had interrupted him at dinner one night at Las Vegas’s Sands Casino, asking him to come over to his table in order to impress a date, who didn’t believe he knew the singing star.

After he had finished eating, Sinatra approached Rickles’s table, saying “Hi Don. How the hell are you” only for Rickles to glance up from his food and say: “Not now, Frank. Can’t you see we’re eating?”

Don Rickles was born in Queens, New York, in 1926, to Max and Etta Rickles. His father was a Jewish Lithuanian immigrant, while his mother was the daughter of Austrian Jews. He enlisted in the navy during World War Two, serving as a Seaman First Class on a motor torpedo boat in the Pacific Ocean.

He is survived by his wife Barbara, whom he married at the age of 39 in 1965, and his daughter Mindy. A son, Larry Rickles, who was a screenwriter and film producer, died in 2011.

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