The recent passing of Don Rickles on April 6th left many of us sad, wistful and perhaps even a little worried. Known around the world as "the merchant of venom" and "Mr. Warmth" (a nickname bestowed on him by Johnny Carson), Don was, apparently, the last of the insult comics.
Don insulted everyone, he was an equal opportunity insulter. He insulted presidents, royalty, the biggest celebrities in the world, as well as commoners, nonentities, hicks, yokels, and rubes. But no one ever objected or took any offense. Heck, it was a badge of honor to have Don Rickles insult you.
And with the age of political correctness closing its humorless noose around our collective necks, somehow we sensed that the end of an era had arrived. And Don Rickles, one of the funniest guys in the world, was the last of a dying breed. Okay, here are 18 facts you may not have known about the great Don Rickles.
1. He served in World War II.
After graduating from Newtown High School in New York, Don Rickles served on the motor torpedo boat tender USS Cyrene, he was a seaman first class. He was honorably discharged in 1946.
2. He graduated from the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Among his classmates were Jason Robards, Anne Bancroft, and Grace Kelly.
3. He became an insult comic almost by accident.
After graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Don wasn't getting any acting gigs, so he switched over to stand-up comedy. But he found that his stand-up act wasn't getting many laughs from the customers. So he started insulting them. He quickly discovered that the paying crowds liked (and laughed more) at his insult shtick than his stand-up routine, so he stuck with it.
4. He did his first movie with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.
Unlike many young actors, who start their film career doing "B" movies, Don began in films with a grade "A" project, a submarine drama called Run Silent, Run Deep starring two movie legends- Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.
Run Silent, Run Deep holds an unusual movie distinction. It was the first (and we assume, only) movie in history to have its premiere held aboard a submarine. Yes, in April 1, 1958, Run Silent, Run Deep premiered aboard the SS-313 USS Perch. Its premiere audience consisted mainly of submarine officers and the media.
5. He got the role in Run Silent, Run Deep because of an automobile accident.
Frank Gorshin was originally scheduled to test for the role of petty Officer Ruby, but refused to fly to the testing. Instead, he drove and was involved in an auto accident, leaving him with a fractured skull. He spent four days in the hospital and awoke to find that the role had been given to Don Rickles.
6. Frank Sinatra helped make him a star.
Early in his career, when Don was booked at Murray Franklin's nightclub in Miami Beach, Frank Sinatra, who as playing at the Fountainbleu, dropped by to catch his act. As Frank walked in, Don proceeded to take off on him, saying, "Make yourself at home, Frank. Hit someone."
Instead of being offended, the mighty Sinatra loved Don's routine. He invited his celebrity friends to go and see Don's act. The word got out about Don and he started getting better bookings and shots on national shows. Don and Frank were to remain lifelong friends- Sinatra's nickname for Don was "Bullet Head."
7. He (probably) guest-starred in more classic TV shows than anyone in history.
Don's TV resume in his acting days is so impressive it's almost surreal. Do you know of any other actor who guest-starred on The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, Gilligan's Island, The Andy Griffith Show, Get Smart, The Munsters, The Addams Family, and F Troop? As if these sitcoms weren't enough, Don also guested on The Twilight Zone.
8. He even insulted the Beatles.
In February of 1964, the Beatles traveled to Miami to make their second appearance on <>The Ed Sullivan Show. They stayed at the Deauville Hotel, where Don happened to be appearing.
One night, having no idea who he was, the Fab Four went down to catch Don's show. Don took off on the boys, insulting them, much to their surprise. John, Paul, George and Ringo were too shocked to fight back.
9. He appeared in four "beach party" movies in the '60s.
Don made guest appearances in four beach party movies- Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), Pajama Party (1964) and Beach Blanket Bingo. Why? Don's agent was married to Annette Funicello.
10. His album made the charts.
In 1968, Don's album Hello Dummy! made the Billboard Hot 200 album chart, peaking at #54.
11. His mother never appreciated Don's act.
According to Don, his mother, Etta, never appreciated his shtick. "Why can't you be like Alan King? Why can't you be nice to people?" she asked him.
"She never got it," said Don.
12. He never gambled.
Although Don played Las Vegas for over 50 years, he never gambled. "I never gambled a penny. I can't play cards. I never bet." said Don. In 1969, Don played a casino dealer in the movie Where It's At with David Janssen. He had no idea how to deal the cards and a double was brought in to do the dealing for him.
13. He was immortalized in two comic books.
Drawn by Jack Kirby, Don Rickles appeared in the #139 and #141 issues of the DC comic book Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. Not only Don appears, but his twin "Goody" Rickles shows up too.
14. He was the only comedian in the world who was backed by a 14-piece band.
15. His greatest thrill.
Don was a lifelong Democrat, but when asked about the highlight of his career, he always said it was being invited to entertain at President Ronald Reagan's second inauguration in 1989.
16. Did he ever regret anything he ever said onstage?
This was probably the question Don was asked most often. Did he ever regret something he said in his act? Did he ever feel he'd gone too far? According to Don, "I never backed up. I've never looked back and said 'oh, maybe I shouldn't have said that,' cause that's the kiss of death."
17. He was married for 52 years.
Don met his wife, Barbara, when se was working as a secretary for his theatrical agent. The two marred on March 14, 1965. They celebrated their 52nd wedding anniversary a few days before Don's passing.
18. His last Tweet was to his beloved wife.
We are celebrating our 52nd Wedding Anniversary March 14th. Happy Anniversary my dear wife, Barbara. You are my life. Pussycat— Don Rickles (@DonRickles) March 12, 2017
The final tweet of Don Rickles: "We are celebrating our 52nd wedding anniversary March 14th. happy anniversary to my dear wife, Barbara. you are my life. x pussycat (me)."