From The Tonight Show to Toy Story: Don Rickles' Life in Photos
Born in New York City in 1926, Don Rickles grew to become one of Hollywood's most beloved comedians, packing his résumé with roles in film and TV until his passing on April 6, 2017, at the age of 90. Before making it big on the silver screen in 1958's Run Silent, Run Deep, he served in the Navy during World War II and attended the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan, hitting the comedy circuit after graduation. "I don't practice or write stuff down — everything I do onstage was just made up before I went on," he told Closer magazine in February 2017. "You can't please everyone, but I've been fortunate in that my fans are in my corner."
The funnyman's rise to fame included spots on The Addams Family, C.P.O. Sharkey and The Dick Van Dyke Show, and even his own short-lived Don Rickles Show in 1972. However, "I was never handled correctly, in my opinion," he told The New Yorker in 2004. "My acting career should have gone further than what it did."
Among Rickles' earlier famous friends was Frank Sinatra, whom he roasted in 1957 when the singer snagged a seat at the comedian's show at a club in Hollywood. "Nobody ever dared with Frank," Rickles told The New Yorker, "because he had such mood swings and you never knew how he was going to react. But I could tell the minute I saw him that he was going to be in my corner." Here, they appear together at the 1969 Academy Awards.
As his career kept building, so did his personal life: Rickles met his wife Barbara when she was working as his agent's secretary, and the two were married for 52 years, celebrating their latest anniversary on March 14. "Happy Anniversary my dear wife, Barbara. You are my life," he Tweeted on March 11. The couple had two children: daughter Mindy and son Larry (pictured here as a newborn), who died in 2011 at the age of 41.
Rickles performed for a whole host of American presidents, including Ronald Reagan — here as governor on The Dean Martin Comedy Hour in 1973 — and was picked to roast Reagan at his second inaugural ball in 1985.
Later in life, Rickles gained a host of new fans with his work in the Toy Story movies as Mr. Potato Head starting in 1995. "I busted my bird for 60 years in the business, but my grandkids only know me as Mr. Potato Head," he once joked to Maxim.
Dick Clark, Bob Newhart and Tony Danza turned out to help honor Rickles with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2001. "I want to thank my fans who are here on the street on their way to look for a job," he joked. "My wife, Barbara, would be standing next to me, but her jewelry is too heavy for her to walk over here."
In his twilight years, Rickles earned the Legend Award at the 2009 TV Land Awards (his only honor of note aside from a 2008 Emmy for his Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project), was the subject of a star-studded Friars Club roast in 2013 and honored by fellow celebs in a 2014 special. (Here, he hangs out with Robert De Niro at Comedy Central's Comedy Awards 2012 in N.Y.C.) A slew of A-listers turned out to see him do standup at a sold-out show in L.A. in 2015, too. And that's just the way he wanted it: "Honestly, I didn't realize it — all of a sudden I was 90," he told Closer. "I'm still going pretty damn good. And it's nice because I have no plans to slow down."