Donald Jay "Don" Rickles was an American stand-up comedian, actor, singer, voice artist. and comedian, best known for his work as an insult comic. His career spanned more than 50 years covering motion pictures and television.
Rickles was born on May 8, 1926 in Queens, New York to Max Rickles, the son of Lithuanian immigrants, and Etta Rickles (nee Feldman), the daughter of immigrant parents from the Austrian Empire. Raised under the Jewish faith, he grew up in the Jackson Heights area and graduated from Newtown High School, later serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was honorably discharged in 1946 and studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts two years later between bit parts on television, later turning to doing stand-up between acting roles. Rickles became successful as a stand-up comedian, becoming well-known as an insult comic for the way he spewed insults to his audience. He eventually earned the nicknames "Mr. Warmth" and "The Merchant of Venom" for his comedy.
While working in a Miami Beach nightclub, he became close friends with Frank Sinatra and became a regular member of Sinatra's circle of friends known as the Rat Pack. Not immune to Rickles' insults, Sinatra's support helped him become a popular headline performer in Las Vegas. In 1958, Rickles made his film debut in "Run Silent, Run Deep," a serious film with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. Throughout the 1960s, he appeared frequently on television, guest-starring in shows like "The Andy Griffith Show," "Get Smart," "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Munsters," "The Addams Family" and Gilligan's Island. He also appeared in the "Beach Party" film series. He was one of the few comedians who failed to get a part in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" in 1963, which starred Jim Backus and Phil Silvers; Rickles always paid close attention when its director Stanley Kramer appeared in the audience of one of his shows.
Rickles was also a frequent guest and recurring host on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" through the Sixties. Rickles was known for surprise visits to the set, and Carson likewise surprised Rickles on the set of "CPO Sharkey," Rickles' own TV show, over a broken cigarette box on his desk. Rickles also made frequent appearances on "The Dean Martin Show" and became a fixture on "The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast" specials which continued until 1984. In addition to Frank and Johnny, Rickles also became close friends with fellow actor-comedian Bob Newhart.
In 1970, Rickles had a role "Kelly's Heroes" with Clint Eastwood. In 1972, he starred in the sitcom "The Don Rickles Show," which lasted for 13 episodes. He occasionally appeared as a panelist on "Hollywood Squares" and between shows in Las Vegas, he co-hosted the short-lived series "Foul-Ups, Bleeps & Blunders," an imitation of "TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes." He also took random film roles, such as "Innocent Blood" in 1992 and "Casino" in 1995, but he became most well-known as the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the popular Pixar movie, "Toy Story," (1995), which he reprised in the later franchise. He went on to be a frequent guest on late night talk shows, including the "Late Show with David Letterman," "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson."
Sadly, Rickles passed away from renal failure on April 6, 2017. He was survived by his wife of forty years, his two children and four grandchildren.