Reel Urban News Remembers:
Legendary insult comic Don Rickles died early Thursday in California, his publicist said.
The 90-year-old comedy icon had been in failing health and recently canceled a May 6 show at the River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa. The cause of death was kidney failure, his publicist said.
The salty-tongued funnyman was a favorite on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.” But young fans also knew him as Mr. Potato Head on “Toy Story.”
He’s survived by Barbara, his of 52 years, and their daughter Mindy Mann — herself a comic who performs under the name Mindy Rickles.
Donald Jay Rickles was born on May 8, 1926 to Jewish immigrant parents from Lithuania and Austria. He grew up in Jackson Heights and graduated from Newtown HS.
After serving in the Navy during World War II, Rickles came to fame in the early 60s, playing big Las Vegas showrooms and running with friends like Frank Sinatra.
His brash, confrontational style was considered edgy at the time and for decades following.
Rickles loved calling his targets “hockey puck” and nothing as off limits for an insult. He’d lob such jibes as: “Who picks your clothes — Stevie Wonder?”
Carson famously nicknamed him “Mr. Warmth.”
While popular on the standup circuit and late night couch to the very end, Rickles said his brash style was never a good fit for mainstream, prime time TV.
His biggest foray on to the small screen was his sitcom “C.P.O. Sharkey” which lasted for two seasons and 37 episodes on NBC between 1976 and 1978.
“They were never able to catch on with me, with my image,” he told The Post back in 2015.
“It was tough to write how I am. The dramatic stuff always went over big, but I never had luck with comedy. The people around me were great, but somebody said I was ‘too strong’ on TV — not with the language or what I said, but with my attitude. At that time I was comparatively young for TV … so it was difficult for me. I didn’t feel that way, but that’s the way it went.”
Even if primetime wasn’t the best fit for Rickles, he was a natural for late night.
He appeared on Carson’s “Tonight Show” nearly 100 times.
“It’s a theatrical performance,” Rickles once said of his act. “The word `stand-up’ I never liked because I never do `stand-up.’ I don’t go out and say, ‘Two Jews got off a bus,’ and tell a joke. I can’t do a joke, believe it or not. My whole performance is attitude.”