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Don Rickles, an Insult Comic for the Ages, Dies at 90

He passed away in his home of kidney failure, his publicist confirms.

Don Rickles

Don Rickles

MediaPunch/REX/Shutterstock

One of the original insult comics has told his last joke. Multiple outlets confirm that Don Rickles died at his home in Los Angeles of kidney failure today, bringing a six-decade career to a close. A frequent presence on both the big and small screen, Rickles was best known for his countless appearances onstage as a comedian.

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Best known to younger viewers as the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the “Toy Story” movies, Rickles came to increased prominence as a regular guest on both “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and “The Late Show With David Letterman” after honing his craft in clubs. None were spared from his verbal jabs, including Frank Sinatra; onstage in 1957, Rickles told the singer to “Make yourself at home, Frank. Hit somebody.”

Luckily for all involved, Sinatra signaled his approval with raucous laughter. Rickles eventually became a staple at celebrity roasts, often referring to the targets of his jokes as hockey pucks.

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Born May 8, 1926 in Queens, Rickles dismissed the notion of retiring just three years ago. “I’m in good health. I’m working better than I ever have. The audiences are great. Why should I retire?” he said during an interview with the Turlock Journal. “I’m like a fighter. The bell rings and you come out and fight. My energy comes alive. And I still enjoy it.”

Update: Martin Scorsese has offered his thoughts on Rickles.

“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.”

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