Legendary insult comedian Don Rickles, a fixture on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” died Thursday morning at his home in Los Angeles from kidney failure. He was 90.
Born on May 8, 1926 in Jackson Heights, New York, Rickles abandoned a potential career as an insurance agent by enrolling in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He tried his hand at performing comedy in nightclubs in between acting gigs, which is where he found his true calling by taking on hecklers. Rickles was doing just that in the 1950s when Frank Sinatra and his entourage saw his performance in Miami Beach, and recommendations by Sinatra opened doors for him in Las Vegas (and entry as an honorary member of the Rat Pack).
An appearance on “The Tonight Show” in 1965 gave him his national breakthrough and he quickly became a regular guest. Rickles headlined three short-lived sitcoms: “The Don Rickles Show” on CBS in 1972, “C.P.O. Sharkey” on NBC from 1976-78, and “Daddy Dearest” on Fox in 1993. He also guest starred in numerous series like “The Twilight Zone,” “Wagon Train,” “The Addams Family,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Gilliagn’s Island.” But it was “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast,” which ran sporadically from 1974 to 1984 on NBC, that gave Rickles his greatest success.
More recently, Rickles guest starred in TV Land sitcom “Hot in Cleveland” and was the voice of Mr. Potato in the “Toy Story” franchise.
Rickles is survived by his wife Barbara, a son and a daughter, along with two grandchildren.