Don Rickles dead: Master of the insult and Mr. Warmth dies aged 90

Comedian sarcastically was known as 'Mr. Warmth' voiced Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story

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The Independent Culture

American stand-up comedian Don Rickles has died at his home in Los Angeles of kidney failure aged 90, the performer’s publicist Paul Shefrin has announced.

Rickles - renowned for quick-fire insults that lead to the sarcastic nickname ‘Mr. Warmth’ - was known in the UK for starring in Casino and voicing Mr Potato Head in the Toy Story films. 

The legendary comic first came to America’s attention after insulting Frank Sinatra, telling the singer midway through a performance in a Hollywood club: "Make yourself at home Frank. Hit somebody”.

Following Sinatra’s roaring approval, 'the Merchant of Venom' began an all-out assault on Hollywood, leading to various high-profile shows, culminating in Ronald Reagan’s second Inaugural Ball.

Of course, Rickles showed no mercy towards the President, asking “Am I going too fast for you, Ronnie?” The show was considered one of many career highlights. 

Rickles’ reputation for celebrity mocking skills grew while appearing on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts series that ran between the mid-1970s and mid-80s. Targets that appeared on the show included Sinatra, Reagan, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Kirk Douglas, Sammy Davis Jr. and Mr. T.

Along with celebrities, the most common targets for Rickles were those less intelligent audience members, whom he ofter called “hockey pucks”. 

When initially performing stand-up, Rickles found his impromptu insults won more applause than scripted material, so decided to work them into the shows.

Follow comedian Mel Brooks paid tribute to Rickles on Twitter, writing: “Don Rickles. One of the bravest, funniest, and sweetest guys that ever performed. A dear pal that we will all sorely miss.”

Dick Van Dyke wrote: “Those were the days, my friend Don Rickles. We thought they'd never end. We loved you so.”

Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese, who worked with Rickles on Casino, paid tribute, saying: “Don Rickles was a giant, a legend…and I can hear his voice now, skewering me for being so lofty… Experiencing Don, and tuning into his mind, I witnessed the evolution of his comedy.

"It was like listening to a great jazz musician wail. Nobody else did what he did. He made comedy into an art form. And like all geniuses, comic or otherwise, he’s irreplaceable. He was much loved. I’m really missing this man.” 

Rickles is survived by Barbara, his wife of 52 years, their daughter Mindy Mann, and two Grandchildren. The comedian would have been 91 next month.