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R.I.P. Don Rickles

The legendary comedian has passed away at age 90.

Legendary entertainer Donald Jay “Don” Rickles has passed away at age 90, according to The Holywood Reporter. He will be remembered for his expansive career in comedy. From nightclubs and talk shows to television series and feature films, Rickles’ career graced them all, making the entertainer one of the most respected names in entertainment.  

Rickles was born in Queens, New York, and grew up in Jackson Heights. After high school he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served during World War II until 1946. Two years later he studied at the American Academy for Dramatic Arts and was able to get bit parts in television. However, gigs in acting were few and far in between, so he began to pursue stand-up comedy.  

Because Rickles had a tendency to respond to hecklers, he began to be known as an insult comic. When it became apparent that his audiences were enjoying the insults more than his prepared material, Rickles began to incorporate insults into all his acts.   

Early in his career, Rickles won the support of Frank Sinatra by ribbing the famous singer and actor about his latest film. After spotting Sinatra in the crowd, Rickles remarked, “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!" 

Sinatra, who enjoyed the impromptu roast, encouraged other celebrities to see Rickles and be lampooned by the comic’s good-natured insults. Sinatra’s championing Rickles helped the struggling comedian become a popular headline performer in Las Vegas, where he earned the nicknames “The Merchant of Venom” and “Mr. Warmth.”  

With his career hitting high gear, Rickles made his feature film debut in Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), which starred Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.     

Now firmly established in show business, Rickles made many appearances on television series throughout the 1960s on programs such as The Dick Van Dyke Show (1964), The Addams Family (1964), The Munsters (1965), The Andy Griffith Show (1965) I Dream of Jeannie (1967) and Get Smart (1969). 

Also during this time, Rickles began appearing frequently on television talk shows, most notably The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson beginning in 1965. He became a frequent guest and guest host, appearing more than 100 times on The Tonight Show

From 1973 to 1984, Rickles also was a frequent guest on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, in which he would pay tribute to colleagues and friends such as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball.

Rickles live comedy album, "Hello, Dummy!," released in 1968, reach #54 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Also, during the same year, Rickles got his first show, The Don Rickles Show, which ran for one season.

Rickles appeared in Kelly’s Heroes with Clint Eastwood in 1970, and in 1972 The Don Rickles Show was resurrected and ran for 13 episodes. In 1976, Rickles starred in sitcom C.P.O. Sharkey, which enjoyed a two-season run.

In the early 1980s, Rickles and singer Steve Lawrence began performing concerts in Las Vegas, and in 1983 the duo co-hosted the short-lived series Foul-Ups, Bleeps and Blunders. In 1985, when Frank Sinatra was asked to perform at Ronald Reagan’s Second Inaugural Ball, Sinatra stipulated that he would not perform unless Rickles was also on the bill.

During the 1990s, Rickles appeared in Tales from the Crypt episode "The Ventriloquist’s Dummy" (1990) and John Landis film Innocent Blood (1992). And in 1993, Rickles teamed up with Richard Lewis for short-lived sitcom Daddy Dearest. He also appeared in Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995) and voiced Mr. Potato Head in the Pixar films Toy Story, (1995) Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010). 

Until the end of his life Rickles continued to be active in stand-up comedy and television, frequently appearing on Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Late Show with Craig Ferguson. And in 2011, he made a guest appearance on Betty White’s Hot in Cleveland.

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