Legendary comedian Don Rickles died on Thursday of kidney failure. He was 90.
The comic, whose career spanned six decades, was sarcastically nicknamed “Mr. Warmth” for his razor-sharp wit and biting mock disdain for Hollywood stars, notables and heads of state. After years of struggling on the comedy circuit, Rickles found his niche when he turned the tables on his hecklers and his career skyrocketed when he insulted legendary crooner Frank Sinatra, who traditionally did not take kindly to ribald ribbing from comedians.
For decades, Rickles continued to push the boundaries of comedy and poke fun at the famous and non-famous alike. He was still going strong in June 2012 when, during the American Film Institute’s tribute to actress Shirley MacLaine, he joked that he “shouldn’t make fun of the blacks. President Obama is a personal friend of mine. He was over to the house yesterday, but the mop broke.”
Fellow comic and master of the deadpan delivery Bob Newhart and his wife Ginnie often vacationed with Rickles and his wife, Barbara. “He was called ‘The Merchant of Venom,’ but in truth, he was one of the kindest, caring and most sensitive human beings we have ever known,” the Newharts said in a statement. “We are devastated, and our world will never be the same. We were totally unprepared for this.”
Oscar-winner Martin Scorsese, who directed Rickles in the 1995 film Casino, said, “Don Rickles was a giant, a legend…and I can hear his voice now, skewering me for being so lofty. I had the honor of working with him on my picture Casino. He was a professional. He kept me doubled over with laughter every day on the set – yet he was a complete pro. We became friends over the years and I had the honor of being roasted by him more than once – sometimes when I didn’t expect it. He just started showing up at places and insulting me. 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.”
Robert De Niro said in a statement: “I’m a little disappointed with Don. He had promised me he would live to be at least 95. In all seriousness, he was not only a great friend, he was a great man with a great heart. I really loved the guy. I will miss him.”
Comedian Rip Taylor said, “A legend is gone and there will never be anyone like him again.”
Impressionist Rich Little, who appeared with Rickles on multiple Dean Martin roasts, remembered his time with the comic legend. “Having done 24 Dean Martin roasts, I know without a doubt that Don Rickles was the greatest comedian of all time. There were few, if any, that were quicker than Don. He didn’t think of the next line he would use, he was already thinking of the line after that. There were many times on the roast that I literally fell out of my chair laughing. In private life, Don was a very nice man. There will never be another man like him.”
“All of us at AARP Studios are immensely saddened with the passing of Don Rickles,” said AARP vice president Jeff Eagle in a statement. “We had the distinct pleasure of recently working with Don on our upcoming series Dinner with Don. Don was known for his biting, acerbic humor and we feel lucky enough to have experienced that first-hand. He was also a thoughtful, kind and generous colleague and friend. Don continued to make audiences laugh throughout his life and career and his legacy will live on. We send our condolences to his family and longtime industry colleagues.”
Rickles was remembered and honored by many Hollywood stars and friends as the news broke. “90 years with Don Rickles weren’t enough. One of the sweetest and most lovely people I had the pleasure of knowing. We miss you already,” Jimmy Kimmel wrote on Twitter.
On social media, Hollywood paid tribute to the legendary comedian:
Don Rickles. One of the bravest, funniest, and sweetest guys that ever performed. A dear pal that we will all sorely miss.
— Mel Brooks (@MelBrooks) April 6, 2017
90 years with Don Rickles weren’t enough. One of the sweetest and most lovely people I had the pleasure of knowing. We miss you already
— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) April 6, 2017
Don Rickles has passed away.
A giant loss.
— Billy Crystal (@BillyCrystal) April 6, 2017
May the legendary Don Rickles rest in peace. He was one of the greats.
— Seth MacFarlane (@SethMacFarlane) April 6, 2017
Those were the days, my friend @DonRickles We thought they’d never end. We loved you so.
— Dick Van Dyke (@iammrvandy) April 6, 2017
A God died today. Don Rickles, we did not want to ever lose you. Never. Hanx.
— Tom Hanks (@tomhanks) April 6, 2017
I was thrilled to interview/be insulted non-stop by the legendary Don
Rickles. I will sorely miss this incredibly funny and lovable man.
— Conan O’Brien (@ConanOBrien) April 6, 2017
— Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) April 6, 2017
Don once begged me for a couple of bucks then told me to twist myself into a pretzel. Ego slayer! Comic Everest! Spank you, Mr Rickles. ;^)
— Jim Carrey (@JimCarrey) April 6, 2017
He was the love of my life . Don Rickles is funnier right now in death than most comics are in life. pic.twitter.com/jcWIhdJsgX
— Chris Rock (@chrisrock) April 6, 2017
Don Rickles was one the absolute greats. I feel lucky for the times I was ever in his orbit, my thoughts are with his family today x
— James Corden (@JKCorden) April 6, 2017
Awwww man Rickles is dead. Rest In Peace buddy.
— Danny DeVito (@DannyDeVito) April 6, 2017
#DonRickles was an absolute legend, my favorite comedian, and also my friend. Rest in peace.
— Mark Wahlberg (@mark_wahlberg) April 6, 2017
He never was Politically Correct and he never apologized for it. R.I.P. Don Rickles @DonRickles
— Gilbert Gottfried (@RealGilbert) April 6, 2017
In lieu of flowers, Don Rickles’ family has requested that people drop their pants and fire a rocket. #RIPDonRickles
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) April 6, 2017
A national treasure is gone. Don Rickles’ talent was limitless. To know him was a gift. He kept me laughing during 58-years of friendship. pic.twitter.com/B1IXEa9S4g
— Larry King (@kingsthings) April 6, 2017
One of the first comedy shows I ever saw as a little kid was Don Rickles at the Westbury Music Fair. I snuck down to the front row and he decimated me. Later in life Me and my best pals ate some mushrooms and saw him open up for Frank Sinatra at the Greek. Nobody has ever been funnier or sweeter. What an amazing long very happy life. So many laughs.
A post shared by Judd Apatow (@juddapatow) on
Farewell to a comedic legend & dear friend, Don Rickles. I know you’re cracking them up in the… https://t.co/dFcfoeFcPn
— Samuel L. Jackson (@SamuelLJackson) April 6, 2017
— Ozzy Osbourne (@OzzyOsbourne) April 6, 2017
RIP Don Rickles. One of the funniest people that ever lived, you dumb schmuck.
— billy eichner (@billyeichner) April 6, 2017
Greatest Of All Time https://t.co/b7q4wmpFX0
— Jeff Ross (@realjeffreyross) April 6, 2017
My friend, my dad, the funniest biggest hearted of them all. A beautiful husband and father. My heart is broken. Rest In Peace. Don Rickles.
— bob saget (@bobsaget) April 6, 2017
Rest In Peace Don Rickles. It was my pleasure to get to know him a little bit about 15 years ago. What a hilarious, generous and lovely guy.
— Hank Azaria (@HankAzaria) April 6, 2017
Stunned/saddened to hear Don Rickles passed away this morning. Just saw him again in LA recently–sharply funny onstage, sweet offstage.
— Harry Shearer (@theharryshearer) April 6, 2017
Hail hail an original genius vacated this realm! RIP #DonRickles
— Roseanne Barr (@therealroseanne) April 6, 2017
The memories of Don feel *so* good. I’ll never forget a second of time spent with him. Rest In Peace Don Rickles.
— John Mayer (@JohnMayer) April 6, 2017
— Lynda Carter (@RealLyndaCarter) April 6, 2017
— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) April 6, 2017
Don Rickles was a cyclone of funny with a heart of gold. Is God ready for your maniacal wit? Would love to hear what you said on arrival.
— Lewis Black (@TheLewisBlack) April 6, 2017
Being skewered by Don Rickles was side-splitting funny.
A gentle soul with rapid fire wit. xoB pic.twitter.com/yl2mnT32Zz
— Barbra Streisand (@BarbraStreisand) April 6, 2017
One person I always wanted to meet and shake hands with.
RIP Don Rickles
— Eric Stonestreet (@ericstonestreet) April 6, 2017
RIP Don Rickles. Legend.
— Jim Gaffigan (@JimGaffigan) April 6, 2017
A tribute to Don Rickles. pic.twitter.com/VjGBVu8dVb
— Disney•Pixar (@DisneyPixar) April 7, 2017
Aw jeez. Rickles .Sweetest, funniest, legend and mensch. Came to a party at my house gave me a dollar and told me to get a nicer place.#RIP
— Craig Ferguson (@CraigyFerg) April 6, 2017
One of the all time great men & comics Don Rickles passed, always a class act & funny as hell. RIP condolences to his family & to America
— Whoopi Goldberg (@WhoopiGoldberg) April 6, 2017
RIP to this sweet and lovely man pic.twitter.com/j8mseq1aSY
— Andy Richter (@AndyRichter) April 6, 2017
— Barbara Eden (@Barbara_Eden) April 6, 2017
RIP comedy legend Don Rickles pic.twitter.com/McVMnDX5Hm
— Mayim Bialik (@missmayim) April 6, 2017
— James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) April 6, 2017
— John Stamos (@JohnStamos) April 6, 2017
— Sean Hayes (@SeanHayes) April 6, 2017
Quite simply one of the funniest ever.
RIP Don Rickles 90 https://t.co/xiZf1U1g6J
— Dane Cook (@DaneCook) April 6, 2017
Hockey puck. We’ve lost @DonRickles I love him so. Smart, funny, a pro and most important deeply and honestly kind. Kind is what matters.
— Penn Jillette (@pennjillette) April 6, 2017
I saw Don Rickles at the Daily Show once. He had no idea who I was. He looked at my face & said “Stop worrying. It’s all going to be great” https://t.co/jOriPr9tqu
— John Hodgman (@hodgman) April 6, 2017
Don Rickles, you kept us laughing for so many years. We will miss you dearly. Thanks for the zingers. You were one of a kind.
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) April 6, 2017
Joan with her lifelong friend and legendary comedian, Don Rickles at the Kraft Music Hall in 1968. Rest in peace, Don. pic.twitter.com/qV1l3rKpxW
— Joan Rivers (@Joan_Rivers) April 6, 2017
— Melissa Rivers (@MelRivers) April 6, 2017
— Kevin Nealon (@kevin_nealon) April 6, 2017
90 years old. Didn’t look a day over 214. Nice job dying, you hockey puck.
— Jake Fogelnest (@jakefogelnest) April 6, 2017
Rickles was awesome.
— Michael McKean (@MJMcKean) April 6, 2017
One of the funniest, ballsiest comics of all time. RIP Don Rickles. pic.twitter.com/wF9rPQjjVz
— Jim Norton (@JimNorton) April 6, 2017
— Tribeca (@Tribeca) April 6, 2017
God Bless Don Rickles, aka, Mr. Warmth! Proud to have been heckled by him from the stage many times! #RIP
— LeVar Burton (@levarburton) April 6, 2017
Rickles is gone. He was the best, you hockey pucks. RIP
— marc maron (@marcmaron) April 6, 2017
JFK/LAX we spoke for 3 hours while his beautiful wife Barbara slept.
Don Rickles was so kind to me I forgot we’d never met
— Jay Mohr (@jaymohr37) April 6, 2017
One of the great thrills of my life was being insulted by this man. I absolutely worshipped him.… https://t.co/R91RrMYYzs
— Johnny Knoxville (@realjknoxville) April 6, 2017
Don Rickles created a style of stand up and owned (!!!) it his entire career of 60+ years. It’s unparalleled. No, I mean, NO ONE did that.
— Kevin Pollak (@kevinpollak) April 6, 2017
Top Dog and King of All Shit Talking Don Rickles!!! #DonRickles
— MichaelRapaport (@MichaelRapaport) April 6, 2017
RIP Don Rickles, a sweet, funny man I had the privilege both to meet and perform with quite a few times.
— Rita Rudner (@ritarudner) April 6, 2017
Never forget chasing Don Rickles around the audience on the Letterman show to spray him with champagne RIP Don
— Wade Boggs (@ChickenMan3010) April 6, 2017
I was honored to be Don’s pal and work with him. My xx to his family. For sheer laughs and fearlessness, he’s king. pic.twitter.com/OlmKBY7QoE
— Richard Lewis (@TheRichardLewis) April 6, 2017
— Bonnie Hunt (@BonnieHunt_real) April 6, 2017
Don Rickles made fun of me a couple times and I loved it. #RIP
— Doug Benson (@DougBenson) April 6, 2017
— Helen Hunt (@HelenHunt) April 6, 2017
— Kathy Griffin (@kathygriffin) April 6, 2017
RIP Don Rickles. Make God laugh with the same five jokes.
— Anthony Jeselnik (@anthonyjeselnik) April 6, 2017
— Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) April 6, 2017
Don Rickles saw me in the audience. Had me stand up. Everyone applauded. Then he eviscerated me. I was honored.
— Jeff Daniels (@Jeff_Daniels) April 6, 2017
— Denis Leary (@denisleary) April 6, 2017
We lost funnyman don rickles today. Loved that man. Funny and a sweetheart
— Sinbad (@sinbadbad) April 6, 2017