I really enjoy show business people. Not celebrity gossip, but the working actors, actresses, and comedians for whom entertaining is simply their job; a hard job, but a job worth doing. That’s one reason I loved The Dick Van Dyke Show so much, because it was all about that side of things; not glitz and glamor, but the working-people who happen to have entertaining as their career.
One of the many guest stars on the show was a young Don Rickles, the king of the insult. Mr. Rickles seems to have been exactly that kind of man in real life; a hard-working comic who earned his stripes in the cut-throat world of show business, carved a niche for himself, and cheerfully paid his dues through sixty years of quality work, until he finally went to his reward earlier today.
Mr. Rickles was the master of the insult; a skill he developed as a stand-up comic working bars and clubs with often rowdy clientele. From there he progressed to roasting major celebrities, including the notoriously unpredictable Frank Sinatra. No one but Mr. Rickles could get away with mocking Sinatra, but somehow, when he insulted you it was funny rather than offensive. He would say the most outrageous things; but always with an undercurrent of affection. As he himself put it, “If I were to insult people and mean it, it wouldn’t be funny.”
Mr. Rickles attributed this quality to his personality; it was because he was who he was that he could do such outrageous things and get away with it. Somehow, the warmth of the man shone through his insults. He was, by all accounts, a very kind man in real life, married to the same woman his whole life, and a close friend of Sinatra, Dean Martin, Lucille Ball, and mild-mannered fellow comedian Bob Newhart.
Modern audiences were privileged to be introduced to him through his performance as Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story movies, ensuring that his name and work will remain in the public eye. His was a unique talent, the likes of which will probably never be seen again. May he rest in peace.