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Don Rickles, Legendary Insult Comic and Actor, Dies at 90

by Daniel Arkin /  / Updated 
Image: Don Rickles
Don Rickles during Comic Relief V To Benefit America's Homeless in 1992.Ron Galella, Ltd. / WireImage

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Don Rickles, the legendary comedian whose acid-tongued insults and cantankerous persona delighted audiences for generations, died on Thursday. He was 90.

Rickles died of kidney failure at his home in Los Angeles, his longtime publicist Paul Shefrin said in a statement.

Rickles, whose career spanned more than six decades and included scene-stealing roles in films like "Casino" and the "Toy Story" trilogy, was a fixture on the late-night talk show circuit, making more than 100 appearances on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." He mastered a take-no-prisoners style of stand-up comedy — blasting hecklers as "hockey pucks," most famously — that earned him the nicknames "Mr. Warmth" and "The Merchant of Venom."

Born in New York City in 1926, Rickles flung himself from a modest upbringing in Queens to the highest reaches of comedy stardom, headlining casinos and nightclubs from Las Vegas to Atlantic City, New Jersey.

C.P.O. Sharkey - Season 1
Don Rickles as C.P.O. Otto Sharkey.NBCU Photo Bank

With the help of his buddy Frank Sinatra, Rickles conquered Vegas in its bada-bing glory days, selling out shows in which no one — not even Ol' Blue Eyes himself — was spared from Rickles' lacerating wit.

"Make yourself comfortable, Frank," he once told the singer. "Hit somebody."

Rickles was the consummate equal opportunity offender: He poked fun at Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush at their inaugurations, took shots at the Rat Pack, ripped into unruly audience members, and mocked seemingly every ethnic group and religion under the sun.

Related: 'We Lost a Great One': Celebrities Pay Tribute to Don Rickles

But for all his bluster and bravado, "he was one of the kindest, caring and most sensitive human beings we have ever known," fellow comedian Bob Newhart said in a statement Thursday. "We are totally unprepared for this."

Rickles, a prolific television actor who dropped by dozens of sitcoms and variety shows, won a new generation of fans for voicing Mr. Potato Head in "Toy Story" and its blockbuster sequels. He continued to tour, crack wise and thumb his nose at political correctness even as comedy tastes evolved, looming large over similarly caustic comics like Sarah Silverman and Louis CK.

In recent years, Rickles frequently chimed on in Twitter, where he celebrated veterans — Rickles served in the Navy during World War II — and occasionally ribbed Donald Trump.

Rickles is survived by his wife of 52 years, Barbara; their daughter Mindy Mann and her husband Ed; and their two grandchildren, Ethan and Harrison Mann.

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