On comedy stages everywhere tonight will be moments of silence held for Don Rickles, who died today at his Los Angeles home from kidney failure at the age of 90. Known alternatively as both The Merchant of Venom as well as Mr. Warmth, his career spanned more than six decades on stage and screen.
From the stage, Rickles would insult anyone who he happened to see in his audience, the more famous the better. Starting in the 1950s, his act was seen by Frank Sinatra. When Rickles saw the already superstar Sinatra in the audience he didn’t miss a beat, saying, “[Frank] I just saw your movie, The Pride and the Passion and I want to tell you, the cannon’s acting was great.” He followed up with, “make yourself at home, Frank. Hit somebody.” Sinatra loved the act and regularly encouraged his celebrity friends to attend his shows so that they would get equally roasted, adding greatly to Rickles growing popularity.
His standup routines had continued up until recent years, with him poking a few jokes at the expense of President Obama during the 2012 AFI tribute to Shirley MacLaine.
His more than 80 acting credits include Toy Story, Casino, Get Smart, and Kelly’s Heroes. Eclipsing his acting roles, he appeared as himself in nearly 200 shows, films, and stage productions. While he would insult anyone (as well as their dog) from the stage, he was known to everyone as a warm and kind hearted man. Comic Bob Newhart released a statement saying:
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 We are devastated, and our world will never be the same. We were totally unprepared for this.
The sentiments have been being echoed across Twitter as people have been chiming in with their own feelings on his loss.
A God died today. Don Rickles, we did not want to ever lose you. Never. Hanx.
— Tom Hanks (@tomhanks) 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
— Kevin Nealon (@kevin_nealon) April 6, 2017
— Michael Des Barres (@MDesbarres) April 6, 2017
Don Rickles made a joke about me breaking into his hotel room because I'm black and I couldn't have been more honored. Rest well #DonRickles
— Travon Free (@Travon) April 6, 2017
In addition to his wife, Barbara, of 52 years, survivors include their daughter Mindy, son Larry, son-in-law Ed and grandchildren Ethan and Harrison.