Don Rickles, the “insult comic” who was a regular on the Johnny Carson show, became an honorary member of the Rat Pack and also featured in films including Martin Scorsese’s Casino and Toy Story, has died aged 90.
The comedian died at his Los Angeles home of kidney failure on Thursday.
Rickles rose to prominence in the 50s and 60s as a master of the celebrity roast – a “tribute” to a star in which comedians insult the subject – and was a big-name draw at the casinos of Las Vegas and Reno.
He was also a regular on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and an appearance in 1976 alongside Frank Sinatra became one of the most infamous moments in chatshow history, as he made jokes at the singer’s expense.
Rickles was born in Queens, New York, to parents who emigrated from Lithuania. He studied acting at the Academy of Dramatic Arts, and eventually went into standup, becoming a recognizable figure in the nightclubs of New York, Miami and Los Angeles.
The Guardian’s John Patterson described him as “the stand-up comic who took to heart Mort Sahl’s famous line – ‘Is there anyone I haven’t offended?’ – and ran with it all the way to the bank”.
As well as being a presence on Carson and the casino scene, he worked in film, making his debut in the 1958 movie Run Silent, Run Deep. Other notable appearances included a role in the second world war heist comedy Kelly’s Heroes, and a part alongside Debbie Reynolds and Tony Curtis in The Rat Race.
In the 90s, Rickles played the role of a casino pit boss in Martin Scorsese’s Vegas mob hit Casino and became the voice of Mr Potato Head in the Toy Story franchise. In 2007, he was the subject of a documentary, Mr Warmth: The Don Rickles Project, and in 2011 he voiced a character in Zookeeper, starring alongside Kevin James and Rosario Dawson.
Contemporary comedians, including Billy Crystal, paid tribute to Rickles after news of his death was announced:
RIP Don Rickles. One of the funniest people that ever lived, you dumb schmuck.— billy eichner (@billyeichner) April 6, 2017
Don Rickles has passed away.— Billy Crystal (@BillyCrystal) April 6, 2017
A giant loss.