It’s no surprise that the seemingly prickly Don Rickles, who died Thursday at 90, earned adulation for his unfiltered brand of insult humor. The late comic turned his apparent distaste and disregard for his fellow man into a routine bit, taking jabs at race, religion and egos with reckless abandon.
Rickles was legendary for his barbed wit and in particular his rapport with fellow comedians. Watch Rickles in action in this selection of videos throughout the years:
“The insult thing started out of lack of having an act. Many many million years ago I stood on a stage and told bad jokes and did Sophie Tucker as an impersonation and nobody looked up,” Rickles said on “Larry King Live” in 1985. “And suddenly I leaned down and said, ‘Sir, I’m getting fed up with you. Either you watch or I’m going to suck your neck’ — or words to that effect. And suddenly people started to laugh.”
The straitlaced King, who giggled and cried throughout the segment, admitted that Rickles could make him laugh at hello.
Speaking about veteran roastmaster Dean Martin during an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” Rickles recounted what it was really like to work with the crooner, who famously hosted “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast.”
“Dean was great. You know, it’s a mystery. Everybody thought he was boozed up. He put that on. He was a charming, lovable guy, he really was,” Rickles told Kimmel while promoting a DVD box set in 2015. “To be in his company was so great and I never knew what he was saying.”
Martin once affectionately described Rickles as “the only man who holds a black belt for hatred.”
“Rickles is the man about whom Adolf Hitler once said, ‘From him I could learn,’” Martin quipped during a memorable takedown of the comic. “Don’s idea of a fun evening is to show home movies of the attack on Pearl Harbor with a laugh track.”
In 1976, Rickles made a surprise appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” to give his other pal and booster, Frank Sinatra, grief and kiss him right on the mouth — twice. Sinatra, in turn, described a classic prank Rickles pulled on him.
Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” paid homage to Rickles in 2015, with shock jock Howard Stern, comedians Sarah Silverman, Seth Meyers and David Letterman recalling their experiences with the legend.
“The best talk-show guest ever was Don Rickles,” Stern told Seinfeld, “in the history of talk shows.”
“[When] I met Rickles for the first time, he was sitting at a table alone. And I was like I love him. I gotta say hi,” Meyers said. “He looked at me, rolled his eyes and then said, ‘You’re going to have to give me a second. I’m not usually this excited to meet someone.’ He said, I’m sorry to hear ‘Saturday Night Live’ got canceled. And I go, ‘it didn’t get canceled.’ And he goes, ‘a guy can dream.’”
When Jimmy Fallon took over “The Tonight Show” from Jay Leno, Rickles was a frequent guest who managed to simultaneously build up and tear down Fallon.
“I know you as one of the finest impressionists. You do great impressions,” Rickles said in 2015. “Besides that, I’m delighted you have a show because you’re fresh, you’re funny, you’re great. And I want you to know something. From my heart, I never liked you.”
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