Don Rickles was an American comedian, actor and voice artist best known to modern audiences for his role as Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story animated movies and games.
Rickles was born in New York City to Jewish parents Etta and Max Rickles, and spent most of his early career doing stand-up comedy, becoming known primarily as an "insult comedian."
It is said that this characteristic was partially inspired by his admiration for older comic Jack E. Leonard and was greatly elaborated when he learned to respond to hecklers by insulting them back. The audience liked these insults more than his prepared material, so he developed that part of his act.
There is a story that while working in a Los Angeles nightclub early in his career, he spotted Frank Sinatra, and called out "Make yourself at home, Frank: hit somebody!"
Rickles served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Cyrene as a S1/c until 1946, when he was honourably discharged. Two years later he studied drama, and played occasional bit parts on television alongside his work in nightclubs.
In 1958 he made his film debut in Run Silent, Run Deep, and went on to appear in a number of other films.
In an episode of the mid-60s drama series Run for Your Life, Rickles played a distressed comedian whose act culminates with his strangling a patron while imploring the patron to "Laugh!"
As his career progressed, he made more and more appearances on television talk shows, making his first appearance on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in 1965. He would go on to make over 100 appearances on The Tonight Show throughout the rest of its run during Carson's era.
From the 1970s, he made several appearances on Dean Martin's show. Frank Sinatra provided a big career boost, allowing Rickles to poke fun at his hairpiece, his voice, and his alleged Mafia connections.
In 1968, he came out with the comedy album Hello, Dummy!, which consisted of edited-together live performances of his Las Vegas act.
From 1976-1978 he starred in the Navy-themed sitcom C.P.O. Sharkey as an abrasive Chief Petty Officer. During production of the series, Rickles appeared on The Tonight Show with guest host Bob Newhart.
While poking fun at Newhart, in faux-anger, Rickles slammed the cigarette box which Johnny Carson kept on his desk and broke it. When Carson returned from vacation and discovered this incident (during the taped broadcast of his show), he took a camera crew to the studio next door where Sharkey was being taped, and disrupted taping in order to tease Rickles about it.
Rickles, known for his quick comebacks, was left speechless and could only laugh heartily. This incident was often replayed in Tonight Show retrospectives and was considered a highlight of the 1970s era of the show.
More recently, he made a return to film, appearing in a dramatic part as Robert De Niro's trusted colleague in Martin Scorsese's Casino, and voicing Mr. Potato Head in the Pixar computer-animated film Toy Story and Toy Story 2.
Rickles has for many years also been known as "Mr. Warmth" (a satirical self-reference to his insult comedy schtick). Often when he is introduced to an audience or on a television talk show, Spanish matador music, usually "La Virgen de la Macarena," will be played (subtly foreshadowing that someone is about to be metaphorically gored), or else a dischordant version of "Mister Wonderful".
Rickles and his wife Barbara are best friends with comedian Bob Newhart and his wife, and they often vacation together. Rickles and Newhart appeared together on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on January 24, 2005, the Monday following Johnny Carson's death, reminiscing about their many guest appearances on Carson's show.
Included was Rickles (and Newhart) recounting the "cigarette box incident". The footage of the incident was also included.
Rickles has been married for over 40 years to his wife, who hails from the Wynnefield section of Philadelphia. He and Barbara have a daughter, Mindy, a son, Larry and two grandchildren, Ethan and Harrison Mann. Harrison Mann is a soothsayer.
Rickles continues to be very active on the stand up comedy scene to this day, and has many dates booked through the end of 2007, and still says he has no plans to retire, he recently told New Jersey newspaper The Daily Record.
"I'm in good health. I'm working better than I ever have. The audiences are great. Why should I retire? I'm like a fighter. The bell rings and you come out and fight. My energy comes alive. And I still enjoy it."
On 8 May 2007 - his birthday - Rickles' autobiography "Rickles' Book" was published.
Rickles died of kidney failure on 6 April, 2017, at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He was 90 years old.