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This article is about the stand-up comedian. For the radio and television announcer, see Donald Rickles.

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Rickles in 1973
Don Rickles
Background information
Born (1926-05-08)May 8, 1926
Birthplace New York City, New York, U.S.

April 6, 2017(2017-04-06) (aged 90)

Deathplace Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Medium Stand-up, film, television, books
Subject(s) American culture, racism, self-deprecation, everyday life, religion, current events
Nationality American
Years active 1943–2017
Spouse(s) Barbara Sklar (m. 1965)
Children 2, including Larry Rickles
Genres Insult comedy, observational comedy, musical comedy, improvisational comedy
Former members

Donald Jay Rickles (May 8, 1926 – April 6, 2017) was an American stand-up comedian, actor, and author. He is widely regarded as being one of the best insult comics of all time. His prominent film roles included Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) with Clark Gable and Kelly's Heroes (1970) with Clint Eastwood, and beginning in 1976 he enjoyed a two-year run starring in the NBC television sitcom C.P.O. Sharkey.

He received widespread exposure as a popular guest on numerous talk and variety shows, including The Dean Martin Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Late Show with David Letterman, and later voiced Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story franchise. He won a Primetime Emmy Award for the 2007 documentary Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project.

Early life

Donald Jay Rickles was born to Jewish parents in New York City, on May 8, 1926.[1] His father, Max Rickles (1897-1953), emigrated in 1903 with his Lithuanian parents from Kaunas[2] (then in the Russian Empire), and his mother, Etta (née Feldman) (1898-1984), was born in New York City to Austrian immigrant parents.[3][4][5] Rickles grew up in Jackson Heights.[1]

After graduating from Newtown High School, Rickles enlisted in the United States Navy and served during World War II on the motor torpedo boat tender USS Cyrene (AGP-13) as a seaman first class. He was honorably discharged in 1946.[6] Two years later, intending to be a dramatic actor, he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and then played bit parts on television. Frustrated by a lack of acting work, Rickles began performing comedy in clubs in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. He became known as an insult comedian when he responded to his hecklers. The audience enjoyed these insults more than his prepared material, so he incorporated them into his act.[7]

When he began his career in the early 1950s, he started calling ill-mannered members of the audience "hockey pucks".[8] His style was similar to that of an older insult comic, Jack E. Leonard, though Rickles denied Leonard influenced his style.[9] During an interview on Larry King Live, Rickles credited Milton Berle's comedy style for inspiring him to enter show business.[10]



While working in the "Murray Franklin's" nightclub in Miami Beach, Florida, early in his career, Rickles spotted Frank Sinatra and remarked to him, "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!"[1][11] Sinatra, whose pet name for Rickles was "bullet-head", enjoyed him 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 Vegas.[11][12] During a Dean Martin Celebrity Roast special, Rickles was among those who took part in roasting Sinatra,[13] and Rickles, too, was also roasted during another show in the series.[14]

Rickles earned the nicknames "The Merchant of Venom" and "Mr. Warmth"[7][15] for his poking fun at people of all ethnicities and walks of life. When he was introduced to an audience or on a television talk show, Spanish matador music, "La Virgen de la Macarena", would usually be played, subtly foreshadowing someone was about to be metaphorically gored. Rickles said, "I always pictured myself facing the audience as the matador."[9]

In 1958, he made his film debut in a serious part in Run Silent, Run Deep with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.[15] Throughout the 1960s, he often appeared 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. In an episode of the 1960s drama series Run for Your Life, Rickles portrayed a distressed comedian whose act culminates when he strangles a patron while imploring the patron to "Laugh!" Rickles took a dramatic turn in the low-budget Roger Corman film X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes as a carnival barker out to exploit the title character (portrayed by Ray Milland).[16]

File:Don Rickles and Lorne Green.jpg

Rickles appeared in the Beach Party film series. He recalled in his 2007 memoir that at a White House dinner, Barbara Bush teased him about his decision to appear in those films.[17] Rickles' agent, Jack Gilardi, was married to Annette Funicello when Rickles was cast in the Beach Party films. He subsequently began appearing more frequently on television talk shows, first appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1965.[7]

He became a frequent guest and guest host, appearing more than 100 times on The Tonight Show during Carson's era. An early Carson-Rickles Tonight highlight occurred in 1968 when, while two Japanese women treated Carson to a bath and massage by foot, Rickles walked onto the set.[18] He also made frequent appearances on The Dean Martin Show and became a fixture on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast specials.[15]

In 1968, Rickles released a live comedy album Hello, Dummy!, which reached #54 on the Billboard 200 album chart.[19] 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, The Addams Family, The Mothers-in-Law, Gilligan's Island, Get Smart, The Twilight Zone, The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle and I Dream of Jeannie.


File:Don Rickles and Louise Sorel, 1971.jpg

In 1970, Rickles had a notable role as Crapgame in Kelly's Heroes, sharing the marquee poster with co-stars Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland and Carroll O'Connor. In 1972, he starred in The Don Rickles Show with comedy writer Pat McCormick as his sidekick, which lasted for 13 episodes.[20] He also starred in a series of television specials. In his memoir, Rickles acknowledged a scripted sitcom was not well-suited to his ad-lib style of performing.[21]

Starting in 1973, he became a popular comedian appearing on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast specials. In 1976–1978, he starred in C.P.O. Sharkey, which lasted two seasons.[21] The series is primarily remembered for the cigarette box incident when Johnny Carson did an impromptu surprise visit during an episode's taping because he was "incensed" Rickles broke his cigarette box while he chatted with Bob Newhart (who was sitting in for Carson as the guest host of The Tonight Show) on the previous night's show. The incident was often replayed in Tonight Show retrospectives and was considered a highlight of the 1970s era of the series.[22]

Rickles occasionally appeared as a panelist on Hollywood Squares and was depicted in comic book form by Jack Kirby during his work on the Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen series (part of Jack Kirby's Fourth World).[23][24][25]


In the early 1980s, Rickles began performing with Steve Lawrence in concerts in Las Vegas. In 1983, the duo co-hosted Foul-Ups, Bleeps & Blunders, an imitation of TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes. In 1985, when Frank Sinatra was asked to perform at Ronald Reagan's Second Inaugural Ball, he insisted that Rickles be allowed to perform and do it unrehearsed.[26][27] Rickles considered this performance the highlight of his career.[28]

In 1990, he appeared in the second season of Tales from the Crypt in "The Ventriloquist's Dummy." In 1992, he was cast in Innocent Blood, directed by John Landis. In his memoir, Rickles wrote that he recalled that Landis was a "Production Assistant" to Brian G. Hutton during the filming of Kelly's Heroes. During the filming of Innocent Blood, Rickles would kid Landis by ordering him to get coffee or to run other errands befitting his one-time "gofer" status.

In 1993, Rickles starred in another short-lived sitcom Daddy Dearest, with Richard Lewis. In 1995, he portrayed Billy Sherbert in Casino and voiced Mr. Potato Head in the 1995 Disney movie Toy Story and reprised the role in its 1999 sequel Toy Story 2.[29] Rickles starred as George Wilson in 1998's Dennis the Menace Strikes Again. In 1998, he portrayed a film theater manager in Dirty Work and voiced Cornwall, one of the heads of a two-headed dragon, in Quest for Camelot.

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Rickles made a cameo appearance as himself in a recurring dream sequence in "Sub Conscious," an episode of The Unit, which aired in February 2007.[30]

A memoir titled 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 won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program, besting a number of notable comics, including David Letterman, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert. Rickles remarked, "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."[31] Rickles reprised his role of Mr. Potato Head for the Toy Story Midway Mania! attraction at Disney California Adventure Park, Disney's Hollywood Studios[32] and the 2010 film Toy Story 3. He was reported to reprise his role for Toy Story 4 but died before recording any dialogue. Josh Cooley said they will use unused archive recordings of Rickles for the film to honor him.

In 2009, Rickles appeared on Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List and met Griffin's mother Maggie to fulfill one item on Maggie's "bucket list". In 2010, he appeared in a commercial during Super Bowl XLIV as a talking rose and appeared on the 37th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards on CBS TV on June 27, 2010. In 2011, Rickles reunited with his Casino co-star Joe Pesci in a Snickers advertisement highlighting the actors known for their "short fuses."[33] Rickles also portrayed the late husband of Elka (Betty White) on Hot in Cleveland— a "surprise" because his character was thought to be dead.[34]

On May 28, 2014, Rickles was honored by Spike TV's "One Night Only: An All-Star Comedy Tribute to Don Rickles". Recorded live at New York City's Apollo Theater, Jerry Seinfeld was the master of ceremonies for the two-hour special, with live monologues by Johnny Depp, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jon Stewart, David Letterman, Tracy Morgan, Brian Williams, Regis Philbin, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey. Recorded segments included bits from Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Jimmy Kimmel, and Eddie Murphy.[35]

"The camaraderie and the comedy made the show a cross between a traditional roast and a dignified lifetime achievement award, spanning emotions ranging from admiration and gratitude to, well, degradation. And as the evening reached its climax, when Rickles got his say after all that had said about him and his nearly 60-year-long career, fittingly, he had the last laugh." – TV Week[36]

He was still a frequent guest on late night talk shows, including Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, among other late night shows during the later months of his life. On May 11, 2015, Rickles appeared as a guest on one of the final episodes of The Late Show with David Letterman. He also made a cameo appearance in Grandfathered.[37]

In a 2014 interview, Rickles dismissed thoughts of retiring, saying: "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."[38] Until his death in 2017, despite being impeded by multiple surgeries following a bout with necrotizing fasciitis in 2013, Rickles continued touring across the United States.[6]

Personal life

On March 14, 1965, Rickles married Barbara Sklar of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He admitted having a very difficult time romantically in his 20s and 30s, finally meeting Sklar through his agent when he was 38 years old and falling for her when she failed to get his sense of humor.[39][40] They had two children, Mindy and Larry Rickles.[41] According to Rickles' memoir, his grandchildren Ethan and Harrison Mann are much more impressed by his role as Mr. Potato Head than by any of his other achievements.

He befriended mobster "Crazy" Joe Gallo following a performance at the Copacabana in 1972. Gallo, whom Rickles had ribbed mercilessly during his set despite being warned not to do so, accepted Rickles's ribbings in good humor and invited him to Umberto's Clam House after the show. Rickles declined the offer. That night, a gunfight erupted at Umberto's, killing Gallo.[42]

Rickles performed at the inaugurations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush with his friend Frank Sinatra,[43] although Rickles himself was a "lifelong Democrat".[44]

He considered comedian Bob Newhart to be his best friend, and their wives were also close friends.[45] 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. The two also appeared together on the television sitcom Newhart and for previous episodes of The Tonight Show, where Newhart or Rickles were guest-hosts. They and their wives often vacationed together.[45]


Rickles died of kidney failure on April 6, 2017, at his home in Beverly Hills, California.[46] He was interred at Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery.[47]


For Rickles' 88th birthday in 2014, a number of stars helped celebrate it with a televised special titled One Night Only: An All Star Tribute to Don Rickles.[48] Those involved who gave tributes to Rickles included David Letterman, Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Nathan Lane, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Tracy Morgan, Johnny Depp, Brian Williams and Regis Philbin. Those who appeared in pre-taped bits include Bob Newhart, Eddie Murphy, Jimmy Kimmel, and Bill Cosby.[49] Seinfeld described him as a part of the "Mount Rushmore of Stand-up Comedy" with George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Bill Cosby.[50]

Upon hearing of Rickles' death, a number of television hosts paid tribute to his comedic talents, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and David Letterman among them.[51]

Barbra Streisand, Tom Hanks, Billy Crystal, Mel Brooks, Tim Allen, John Lasseter, Whoopi Goldberg, Ron Howard, Conan O'Brien, Chris Rock, Patton Oswalt, Jim Carrey, Ricky Gervais, all paid their respects on Twitter.[52]

Bob Newhart said in a statement, "He was called 'The Merchant of Venom,' but in truth, he was one of the kindest, caring and most sensitive human beings we have ever known. We are devastated, and our world will never be the same. We were totally unprepared for this."[53]

Martin Scorsese, who directed him in Casino in 1995, stated: "Don Rickles was a giant, a legend … and I can hear his voice now, skewering me for being so lofty. I had the honor of working with him on my picture Casino. He was a professional. He kept me doubled over with laughter every day on the set—yet he was a complete pro."[54]

The Academy Awards honored Don Rickles in the 90th edition In Memoriam segment.[55] Toy Story 4 will be dedicated to him.[56]



Year Title Role Notes
1958 Run Silent, Run Deep Quartermaster 1st Class Ruby
1959 The Rabbit Trap Mike O'Halloran
1960 The Rat Race Nellie
1963 X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes Crane
1964 Muscle Beach Party Jack Fanny
Bikini Beach Big Drag
Pajama Party Big Bang The Martian
1965 Beach Blanket Bingo Big Drop
1967 Enter Laughing Harry Hamburger
The Money Jungle Harry Darkwater
1969 Where It's At Willie
1970 Kelly's Heroes Staff Sergeant "Crapgame"
1971 The Love Machine Announcer Uncredited cameo
1990 Keaton's Cop Jake
1992 Innocent Blood Emmanuel "Manny" Bergman
1995 Casino Billy Sherbert
Toy Story Mr. Potato Head Voice
1997 Redux Riding Hood The Boss Voice
Short film
1998 Quest for Camelot Cornwall Voice
Dirty Work Mr. Hamilton
Dennis the Menace Strikes Again George Wilson Direct-to-DVD
1999 Toy Story 2 Mr. Potato Head Voice
2004 The J-K Conspiracy Himself
2010 Toy Story 3 Mr. Potato Head Voice
2011 Hawaiian Vacation Voice
Short film
Zookeeper Jim the Bullfrog Voice
Small Fry Mr. Potato Head Voice
Short film
2012 Partysaurus Rex
2019 Toy Story 4 Voice; Posthumous release


Year Title Role Notes
1955 Stage 7 Announcer Episode: "A Note of Fear"
1955–1956 Cavalcade of America Commentator 2 episodes
1956 Chevron Hall of Stars Announcer
Four Star Playhouse Uncredited
Episode: "The Listener"
1957 M Squad N/A Scenes deleted
Episode: "Pete Loves Mary"
1959 The Thin Man Eddie Episode: "The Cat Kicker"
1959–1960 The DuPont Show with June Allyson Reporter / Newscaster / Announcer 3 episodes
1961 The Twilight Zone Bettor Episode: "Mr. Dingle, the Strong"
Wagon Train Joe Carder Episode: "Wagon to Fort Anderson"
Hennesey Chief Petty Officer Ernie Schmidt Episode: "Professional Sailor"
1962 The Dick Powell Show Newscaster Episode: "Seeds of April"
Cain's Hundred Dave Molloy Episode: "Blood Money"
1963–1965 Burke's Law Swifty Piedmont / Frank Cross / Lou Kronkeit 3 episodes
1964 The Addams Family Claude Episode: "Halloween With the Addams Family"
The Dick Van Dyke Show Lyle Delp 2 episodes
1965 The Beverly Hillbillies Fred Episode: "Jed's Temptation"
Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Sergeant Jim Mason Episode: "My Buddy, the War Hero"
The Munsters "Doc" Happy Havemeyer Episode: "Dance with Me, Herman"
The Andy Griffith Show Newton Munroe Episode: "The Luck of Newton Munroe"
1965–1966 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Linny 2 episodes
1966–1967 Run for Your Life Willy Hatch / Leo Mazinov 2 episodes
F Troop Bald Eagle Episode: "The Return of Bald Eagle"
1966 The Wild Wild West Asmodeus Episode: "The Night of the Druid's Blood"
The Bob Hope Show N/A October 19
Gilligan's Island Norbert Wiley Episode: "The Kidnapper"
1967 The Lucy Show Eddie Rickles Episode: "Lucy the Fight Manager"
I Spy Frank Bodie Episode: "Night Train to Madrid"
I Dream of Jeannie Kiski Episode: "My Master, the Weakling"
1968–1969 The Don Rickles Show Himself (host) 17 episodes
Get Smart Sid Krimm / Guard Episodes: "The Little Black Book – Parts 1&2"

Episode: "To Sire, with Love – Part 2"

1968 The Carol Burnett Show Shoe salesman Season 2, Episode 7[57]
1972 The Don Rickles Show Don Robinson 13 episodes
1973 A Couple of Dons Himself Television Special
1974 Sanford and Son Fight Announcer (voice) Episode: "Once a Thief"
1975 Buy This Tape, You Hockey Puck Himself Stand-up special
1976 Medical Center N/A Episode: "The Happy State of Depression"
1976–1978 C.P.O. Sharkey "C.P.O. Otto Sharkey" 37 episodes
1982 Archie Bunker's Place Al Snyder Episode: "Death of a Lodger"
1983 Gimme a Break! Max Episode: "Nell and the Kid"
1985 George Burns Comedy Week Mayor Episode: "Disaster at Buzz Creek"
1989 Newhart Don Prince Episode: "The Nice Man Cometh"
1990 Tales from the Crypt Mr. Ingles Episode: "The Ventriloquist's Dummy"
1991 Hunter Harold Schwan Episode: "Ex Marks the Spot"
1993 Daddy Dearest Al Mitchell 13 episodes
1997 The Larry Sanders Show Himself Episode: "Artie and Angie and Hank and Hercules"
The Single Guy Dr. Dick Sloan Episode: "Big Baby"
1998 Murphy Brown Leonard, Secretary #90 Episode: "Dial and Substance"
2002 The Bernie Mac Show Himself Episode: "The Sweet Life"
2004 The Wool Cap Ira Television film
2005 The Catch Roy Kozikowski Pilot
2007 The Unit Himself / Priest Episode: "Sub-Conscious"
2011 Hot in Cleveland Bobby 2 episodes
2013 Toy Story of Terror! Mr. Potato Head Voice
Television film
2014 Toy Story That Time Forgot
2017 Dinner with Don Host Web series

Video games

Year Title Role
1996 Animated Storybook: Toy Story Mr. Potato Head
1999 Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue
2001 Toy Story Racer
2003 Toy Story: Buzz Lightyear's Blast Up Together


Live shows

Theme park attractions



Awards and nominations

Year Award Work Result Ref
2000 Hollywood Walk of Fame Won [58]
2008 Primetime Emmy Award for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project Won [59]
2009 Legend Award Won [60]
2012 The Johnny Carson Award For a lifetime of comedic excellence Won [61]
2013 Friars Club Lifetime Achievement Award Won [62]

See also

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  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Witchel, Alex. " I'm No Howard Stern, You Dummy", The New York Times, August 25, 1996. Accessed October 8, 2007.
  2. World War I draft registration, NY City, #31-9-149-B, Max S. Rickles, born August 12, 1897 in Kovna (Kaunas), Russia
  3. US Census, 1930. Queens, New York, Supervisor's District 33, sheet 6A, family #136
  4. US Census, 1920. NY City, Enumerationer's district 1508, Sheet 33A, family #138
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  8. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno April 15, 2009
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  10. Don Rickles on Larry King Show, 1985
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  13. Don Rickles roasts Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin special
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  17. Rickles, Don and David Ritz (2007). Rickles' Book: A Memoir. Simon & Schuster. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-7432-9305-1. 
  18. YouTube icon [1]
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  20. Bob Leszczak (2012), "The Don Rickles Show", Single Season Sitcoms, 1948–1979, McFarland, p. 38, ISBN 9780786493050 
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  23. McAvennie, Michael; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1970s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. "In one of Jack Kirby's strangest tales, Jimmy Olsen met real-world funnyman Don Rickles' costumed likeness, 'Goody' Rickles." 
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  48. "Highlights from One Night Only: An All-Star Tribute to Don Rickles", The Comic's Comic, May 28, 2014
  50. "Jerry Seinfeld tribute to Don Rickles", for his 88th birthday
  53. [2] The Hollywood Reporter, April 6, 2017
  54. "Martin Scorsese pays tribute to Don Rickles: 'He made comedy into an art form'", Entertainment Weekly, April 6, 2017
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  60. Viacom. "TV Land Awards to Honor Comedic Icon Don Rickles With This Year's Legend Award". Press release. Retrieved April 6, 2017. 
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Further reading

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

External links

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