When it comes to comedy, the really great comedians have a unique style that they make their own….which sets them apart from the “thundering crowd”….while providing them an avenue to comedic genius….as evidenced by Jack Benny’s timing and delivery…..Jonathan Winters ad lib and spontaneity….Bob Hope’s self deprecating humor….Red Skelton’s characterizations while being a clown….Bob Newhart’s deadpan humor….Bill Cosby’s storytelling and microphone sounds….Redd Foxx’s risque and suggestive humor….Rodney Dangerfield’s “machine gun” one liners….Steve Martin’s wild and crazy guy humor….George Carlin’s “word merchant” humor….Robin Williams frenetic energy and uncanny knack for impressions and accents humor….Dave Chappelle’s laid back persona while punctuating jokes humor….Richard Prior’s characters ranging from mafia gangsters to water buffaloes while delivering mesmerizing real life accounts….and last but certainly not least, Don Rickles’ insult and observational comedy as the “Merchant of Venom”. So, today’s story is our tribute to the man who became the gold standard of insult comedy….who made people laugh for the better part of 70 years.
Comedy – 1955 To 2017 – Special – Don Rickles Emotional Tributes Around The World – Part 1
Comedy – 1955 To 2017 – Special – Don Rickles Emotional Tributes Around The World – Part 2
Don Rickles (May 8, 1926 – April 6, 2017) was an American stand-up comedian, actor and author….who was known especially for his insult comedy and observational stand-up comedy….whose best known film roles included Run Silent, Run Deep in 1958 with Clark Gable….Kelly’s Heroes in 1970 with Clint Eastwood…..and Casino in 1995 with Robert De Niro….while beginning in 1976, he enjoyed a two-year run starring in the NBC television sitcom C.P.O. Sharkey….and had his own sitcom called The Don Rickles Show in 1972.
Comedy – 1955 To 2017 – Special – “The Very Best of Don Rickles”
Comedy – 1982 – Dean Martin Celebrity Roast Of Don Rickles – “The Merchant Of Venom Gets Revenge” – Part 1
Comedy – 1982 – Dean Martin Celebrity Roast Of Don Rickles – “The Merchant Of Venom Gets Revenge” – Part 2
A headline performer at Las Vegas hotel-casinos and peripheral member of the Rat Pack via friendship with Frank Sinatra….that’s when Rickles received widespread exposure as a frequent guest on talk and variety shows….which included The Dean Martin Show….The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson…..and Late Show with David Letterman….plus, he also later voiced Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story franchise…..and he won a Primetime Emmy Award for the 2007 documentary Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project.
Comedy – 2007 – Special – “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project”
Rickles was born Donald Jay Rickles into a Jewish family in Queens, New York on May 8, 1926…..as his father Max Rickles (1897–1953) emigrated in 1903 with his Lithuanian parents from Kaunas….which was then a part of the Russian Empire….while his mother Etta Rickles (1898–1984) was born in New York City to Austrian immigrant parents…..as Rickles grew up in Jackson Heights. After graduating from Newtown High School in 1944, he enlisted in the United States Navy….and served during World War II on the motor torpedo boat tender USS Cyrene….as a seaman first class….who was honorably discharged in 1946. 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…. where he became known as an insult and observation comedian….when he responded to his hecklers….as the audience enjoyed these insults more than his prepared material….so he incorporated them into his act.
Comedy – 1955 To 2017 – Special – “33 Minutes of Don Rickles”
When he began his career in the early 1950’s, Rickles started to call ill-mannered members of the audience “hockey pucks”…..as his style was similar to that of an older insult comic Jack E. Leonard….albeit Rickles denied Leonard influenced his style. During an interview on Larry King Live, Rickles credited Milton Berle’s comedy style for inspiring him to enter show business.
Comedy & Talk Show – 1985 – Larry King Live – With Guest Don Rickles
While working in the “Murray Franklin’s” nightclub in Miami Beach, Florida, early in his career….when 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.”….then he added….“Make yourself at home, Frank. Hit somebody!” 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…..as Sinatra’s support helped Rickles become a popular headline performer in Las Vegas. During a Dean Martin Celebrity Roast special, Rickles was among those who took part in roasting Sinatra….and Rickles himself was also roasted during another show in the series.
Comedy – 1986 – Dean Martin Celebrity Roast – With Don Rickles Roasting Frank Sinatra
Comedy & Talk Show – 2015 – The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon – With Guest Don Rickles Heckling Fallon & The Roots
Rickles earned the nicknames “The Merchant of Venom” and “Mr. Warmth” for his poking fun at people of all ethnicities and all walks of life. When he was introduced to an audience or on a television talk show….that is when Spanish matador music, “La Virgen de la Macarena”, would usually be played….while subtly foreshadowing someone was about to be metaphorically gored. As Rickles observed, “I always pictured myself facing the audience as the matador.”
Comedy – 1955 – 2017 – Don Rickles Highlights – From Late Night W/ David Letterrman + AFI Honors Martin Scorsese + Tonight Show With Frank Sinatra + Bob Hope Honors
In 1958, he made his film debut in a serious part in Run Silent, Run Deep with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster….then throughout the 1960’s, he often appeared on television in sitcoms and dramatic series…..when Rickles guest-starred in Get Smart as Sid, an old war buddy of Max’s, who comes to stay with him….then in an episode of 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 science-fiction/horror film X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes….as a carnival barker out to exploit the title character (portrayed by Ray Milland)…..then he appeared in the Beach Party film series…..of which he recalled in his 2007 memoir that at a White House dinner, Barbara Bush teased him about his decision to appear in those films….to which Rickles responded that his agent Jack Gilardi was married to Annette Funicello when Rickles was cast in the Beach Party films.
Movie – 1958 – Clip From “Run Silent, Run Deep” – With Clark GAble + Burt Lancaster + Don Rickles
TV Comedy – 1961 – Clip From “Get Smart” – With Don Rickles As “Sid The War Buddy Of Max”
Movie – 1963 – Clip From “X: The Man With X-ray Eyes” – Starring Ray Miland + Don Rickles
Movie – 1965 – Clip From “Beach Blanket Bingo” – With Don Rickles
He subsequently began to appear more frequently on television talk shows….while first appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1965….as he became a frequent guest and guest host….while 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 foot massage, Rickles walked onto the set. He also made frequent appearances on The Dean Martin Show…..while becoming a fixture on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast specials.
Comedy – 1976 – The Johnny Carson Show – With Don Rickles – “The Broken Cigarette Box Incident”
Comedy – 1969 – The Johnny Carson Show – With Don Rickles – “The Japanese Bath Incident”
Comedy – 1980 – The Johnny Carson Show – With Don Rickles – “As He Tears Into Everyone On The Tonight Show”
Comedy – 1976 – The Johnny Carson Show – With Frank Sinatra & Surprise Visit From Don Rickles
Comedy – 1977 – The Johnny Carson Show – With Lou Brock + Don Rickles
In 1968, Rickles released a live comedy album titled Hello, Dummy!….which reached # 54 on the Billboard 200 album chart. The same year, he starred in his own variety show on ABC, The Don Rickles Show….with comedy writer Pat McCormick as his sidekick….as the show lasted one season. During the 1960’s, 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.
Comedy – 1973 – TV Special – Don Rickles: “Celebrity Insult Segment”
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, which lasted for 13 episodes….while he also starred in a series of television specials. In his memoirs, Rickles acknowledged a scripted sitcom was not well-suited to his ad lib style of performing….as he had earlier said that he never writes down his jokes.
Comedy – 1992 – The Best Of Comic Relief – Don Rickles “Mr. Warmth”
Comedy – 2008 – Late Night With David Letterrman – With Guests Denzel Washington + Don Rickles
Starting in 1973, he became a popular dais comedian appearing on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast specials. In 1976–1978, he starred in C.P.O. Sharkey, which lasted two seasons…..as the series is remembered for the cigarette box incident when Johnny Carson made an impromptu visit to the adjacent TV studio….during an episode’s taping feigning “incensed” ire that Rickles broke his wooden cigarette box on the previous night’s show….while Bob Newhart was guest hosting The Tonight Show. The incident was often replayed in Tonight Show retrospectives….as it was considered a highlight of the 1970’s era of the series.
Comedy – 1974 To 1984 – Dean Martin Celebrity Roast Highlights – Don Rickles Roasts Of Bob Hope + Telly Savalas + Lucille Ball + Sammy Davis Jr. + Jack Klugman + Jimmy Stewart
Comedy – 1974 To 1984 – Dean Martin Celebrity Roast Highlights – Don Rickles Roasts Mr. T
Comedy – 1974 To 1984 – Dean Martin Celebrity Roast Highlights – Don Rickles Roasts Clint Eastwood
Comedy – 1974 To 1984 – Dean Martin Celebrity Roast Highlights – Don Rickles Roasts Evel Knievel
Comedy – 1974 To 1984 – Dean Martin Celebrity Roast Highlights – Don Rickles Roasts President Ronald Reagan
In the early 1980’s, Rickles began to perform with Steve Lawrence in concerts in Las Vegas…..when 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 Rickles be allowed to perform and do it unrehearsed…..as Rickles considered this performance the highlight of his career.
Comedy – 1985 – Special – Don Rickles Goes Nuts at Ronald Reagan’s 2nd Inaugural
In 1990, he appeared in the second-season episode of Tales from the Crypt titled “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy”….then in 1992, he was cast in Innocent Blood, directed by John Landis. In his memoir, Rickles wrote that he recalled Landis was a “production assistant” to Brian G. Hutton during the filming of Kelly’s Heroes….so, 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 titled Daddy Dearest, with Richard Lewis. In 1995, he portrayed Billy Sherbert in Casino and voiced Mr. Potato Head in the Disney film Toy Story….as he reprised the latter role in the 1999 sequel Toy Story 2. Rickles starred as George Wilson in 1998’s Dennis the Menace Strikes Again .….then that same year, 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.
Comedy – 1993 – “Daddy Dearest” TV Show – Don Rickles Outrageous Outtakes
Comedy – 1984 – Saturday Night Live – Don Rickles Monologue
Comedy – 2007 – Jay Leno Show – With Guest Don Rickles Giving It To Leno
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….then a memoir titled Rickles’ Book was released on his birthday on May 8, 2007, by Simon & Schuster….which was followed by a documentary about Rickles directed by John Landis titled Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project….which made its debut on HBO on December 2, 2007….when Rickles won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program by besting a number of notable comics, including David Letterman, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert…..to which 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.”
Comedy – 1975 – Don Rickles TV Special – With John Wayne
Comedy – 1975 – Don Rickles TV Special – With Frank Sinatra
Comedy & Entertainment – 1978 – The Dean Martin Show – With Guest Don Rickles
Rickles reprised his role of Mr. Potato Head for the Toy Story Midway Mania! attraction at Disney California Adventure Park, for Disney’s Hollywood Studios…..and in the 2010 film Toy Story 3….as he was reportedly slated to reprise his role in Toy Story 4….but died before recording any dialogue. With permission from Rickles’ family, Josh Cooley used hitherto unused archive recordings of Rickles for the 2019 film to honor him.
Animation Movie Comedy – 1995 – Clips From “Toy Story” Series Special – “The Story of Mr.Potato Head” (Voiced By Don Rickles)
Animation Movie Comedy – 1999 – Clips From “Toy Story 2” – In Memory Of Don Rickles – Scenes When Mr. Potato Head’s On Screen
Animation Movie Comedy – 1995 To 2010 – Clips From “Toy Story” Series Special – Mr. Potato Head Collection From “Toy Story Trilogy”
Interview & Animated Comedy – 1995 – Bobbie Wygant Inverviews Don Rickles – About Playing Mr. Potato Head in “Toy Story Series”
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. He also 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.” Rickles also portrayed the late husband of Elka (Betty White) on Hot in Cleveland….which was a “surprise” because his character was thought to be dead.
TV Ad – 2010 – Snickers Commmercial With Joe Pesci + Don Rickles
TV Ads – 1980 – Linda Carter + Don Rickles For Diet 7-Up
TV Ads – 1987 – Don Rickles For Anso V Worry-Free Carpet
TV Ads – 1974 – Don Rickles For Right Guard Deodorant
TV Ads – 1960 – Don Rickles As The Used Car Salesman
On May 28, 2014, Rickles was honored by Spike TV’s “One Night Only: An All-Star Comedy Tribute to Don Rickles”…..which ws recorded live at New York City’s Apollo Theater….as 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…..and recorded segments included bits from Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Jimmy Kimmel and Eddie Murphy…..as TV Week wrote….” 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.”
Comedy – 2014 – Special – Don Rickles: “One Night Only: An All Star Comedy Tribute”
The Merchant of Venom continued to be a frequent guest on late night talk shows, including Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, among others, 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. In a 2014 interview, Rickles dismissed thoughts of retiring, stating….“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.”….so, 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.
Comedy & Talk Show – 2017 – Conan On TBS – With Bob Newhart Remembering His Friend Don Rickles
From a personal life standpoint, on March 14, 1965, Rickles married Barbara Sklar of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania….as he admitted having a very difficult time romantically in his 20’s and 30’s….but 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….as they had two children. Mindy Rickles and Larry Rickles. 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. Barbara Rickles died from non-Hodgkin lymphoma on March 14, 2021, exactly 56 years after the couple were married.
Talk Show & Comedy – 1997 – The Dick Cavett Show – With Don Rickles On How He Met His Wife
Rickles befriended mobster “Crazy” Joe Gallo following a performance at the Copacabana in 1972….when Gallo, whom Rickles had ribbed mercilessly during his set, despite being warned not to do so, accepted Rickles’ ribbings in good humor and invited him to Umberto’s Clam House after the show and albeit Rickles declined the offer…..that night, a gunfight erupted at Umberto’s, killing Gallo.
Comedy – 1982 – Dean Martin Celebrity Roast Of Don Rickles – With Best Friend Bob Newhart Roasting
Comedy & Talk Show – 2007 – The Howard Sterns Show – With John Stamos + Don Rickles
Rickles performed at the inaugurations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush with his friend Frank Sinatra, although Rickles himself was a “lifelong” Democrat.
Comedy & Entertainment – 2018 -TV Land Awards With Jimmy Kimmel Presenting To Don Rickles
Comedy – 1979 – Don Rickles On Frank Sinatra’s 40 Years In Showbiz
He considered Bob Newhart to be his best friend, often vacationing together along with their wives, who were also close. 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.
Talk Show & Comedy – 1989 – Bob Newhart & Don Rickles on Donahue
Comedy – 2017 – Television Academy Special – Bob Newhart and Don Rickles: “The Rise of the Cerebral Comedy”
Rickles died of kidney failure on April 6, 2017, at his home in Los Angeles, a month before his 91st birthday. Rickles was interred at Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery. Upon hearing of Rickles’ death, a number of television hosts paid tribute to his comedic talents, with Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and David Letterman among them….while 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, and Ricky Gervais all paid their respects on Twitter. 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.”
Comedy – 2017 – Special – Jimmy Kimmel’s Tribute to Don Rickles
Comedy – 2017 – Special – Jimmy Kimmel Live – John Stamos + Bob Saget Remember Don Rickles
Comedy – 2014 – Special – Tina Fey & Amy Poehler Honor Don Rickles
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.” At the 90th Academy Awards, The Academy honored Rickles in their annual in Memoriam segment. Toy Story 4 was dedicated to him, as well as animator Adam Burke.
Movie & Comedy – 2016 – Special – Don Rickles Tribute From Robert De Niro & Martin Scorsese
As evidenced by the videos presented in this story “The Merchant of Venom” and “Mr. Warmth”….the comedic genius of Don Rickles is undeniable….as well as being eternal….for he was a very funny man….who made millions of people laugh…..and will continue to do so for years to come. We here at ImaSportsphile are more than delighted to post this story in tribute to him….and we hope that what we have chronicled in this tribute to Don Rickles will continue to make people laugh for decades to come….for he was the master of insult comedy….which spewed naturally from a well deep inside of him….which is comparable to Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park. I have decided to finish this tale with videos from Dinner With Don…..as they seem to “sum-up” his life best….as they were recorded during the latter part of his life when he was close to 90 years old….for they reflect the true reverence and love of those who got to share a meal with him….and they provide a fitting end to a man who lived his life well…..as he shared his God given talents to the world….and made people laugh to the very end. What made the greatest impression on me about this genius of comedy were two things….one, he never wrote down a prepared line or script, as it all came from within and spontaneously….and two, was how sharp his mind was at age 90, as evidenced by the videos below….what an incredible talent and treasure he was….Rest in Peace Mr. Warmth.
Comedy – 2017 – Dinner With Don Special – “Sarah Silverman Gushes With Don Rickles”
Comedy – 2017 – Dinner with Don Special – “Snoop Dogg Raps With Don Rickles”
Comedy – 2017 – Dinner with Don Special – “Billy Crystal Talks Rat Pack With Don Rickles”
Comedy – 2017 – Dinner with Don Special – “Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese Reminisce With Don Rickles”
Comedy – 2017 – Dinner with Don Special – “Marisa Tomei Talks Life and Love With Don Rickles”
Comedy – 2017 – Dinner with Don Special – “Zach Galifianakis Trades Jabs With Don Rickles”
Comedy – 2017 – Dinner with Don Special – “Amy Poehler Cracks Up Don Rickles”
Comedy – 2017 – Dinner with Don Special – “Rich Eisen Talks Sports With Don Rickles”