By Malcolm Venable,
Don Rickles, the legendary comedian who helped make the art of the insult a full-fledged genre, died Thursday at the age of 90. Rickles’ cause of death was kidney failure, according to The Hollywood Reporter; he died in his Los Angeles home.
“Mr. Warmth,” as he was ironically called, built his persona on hurling quick-witted insults — a shtick he developed in comedy clubs over the years before meeting Frank Sinatra, who helped propelled his career forward. Not long after his first Las Vegas in 1959, he became a fixture on TV shows, including TheTonight Show, where he was a frequent guest of Johnny Carson, as well as classics such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, TheTwilight Zone, I Dream of Jeannie and many more.
By the 1980s, Rickles was such a prominent figure that, at the behest of Sinatra, he pummeled Ronald Reagan with zingers at the president’s Inaugural Ball. The 1970s and 1980s saw him at the height of his fame, when turns on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts found him skewering A-listers of the day such as Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Hope and his pal Sinatra.
Rickles had two self-titled series that ran a few episodes, but most of his TV work was relegated to guest appearances and roles on a long list of programs well into the late 2000s. Still sharp in his later life, Rickles made appearances on relatively recent shows including The Bernie Mac Show and Hot in Cleveland.
He appeared in many films too, including Casino and the Toy Story movies, in which he was the voice of Mr. Potato Head. He is survived by his wife Barbara Sklar and daughter Mindy; his son Larry died in 2011 at age 41.
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