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Jim Sherlock pays tribute to Don Rickles

Article image for Jim Sherlock pays tribute to Don Rickles

Either insulting Mafia bosses on stage, roasting Frank Sinatra, robbing banks in Nazi occupied Germany or as the lovable Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story, Don Rickles has touched generations with his unique blend of humour with adults and children unlike any other.

Throughout a career that spans nearly five decades, and having either worked with or interviewed some of the most cherished names in the world of entertainment, 3AW film and entertainment historian James Sherlock says he was never more blessed than to have known Don Rickles for an all too brief a time.

He shares his first conversation with him in this tribute on a day that the laughter has stopped.

Jim Sherlock’s tribute to Don Rickles

One of the brightest lights in the world of entertainment has gone out!

Mr. Warmth, the comic legend and actor Don Rickles, has died at the age of 90 of kidney failure.

For over six decades, from live stand-up comedy and across the small and big screens, Don Rickles was known and loved around the world for his good-natured but insulting of the people and society in general with his unique side-splitting sledgehammer humour.

He was a hero to myself, and to millions of others, and as far back as I can remember, as a young boy growing up in a troubled world through turbulent times, he never failed once to make me laugh.

There is not a person in the world, including the world of entertainment, who has not been touched by his generosity, warmth and humour, and it was always thought to be an honour to be insulted by Don Rickles, he told it like it was.

Like a Who’s Who of over six decades of the greatest from the world of entertainment, those who stood in awe of him include past legends and friends Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Joey Bishop, Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, right up to David Letterman, Tom Hanks, Jay Leno, Craig Ferguson and Clint Eastwood, the list is endless.

Born May 8, 1926, after nearly two decades he made his leap from the stage to television in the 1950s, and go on to appear in such classic shows as a rare dramatic role in The Twilight Zone, followed by The Addams Family, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island, I Dream of Jeannie, Get Smart, The Munsters, F Troop, The Bob Hope Show, The Dean Martin Show, Newhart, with his closest friend, Bob Newhart, and the starring role in the comedy series CPO Sharkey, among many others.

His most cherished and laugh out loud moment that brought him into the hearts of homes around the world came the 1970s with The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, the side-splitting, tear inducing series where he riotously targeted everyone in his sights including Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, Dean Martin, Milton Berle, Peter Falk, Telly Savalas, and Sammy Davis, Jr.     

When the big screen inevitably beckoned it was in 1958 with a jump to the big screen in the WWII classic Run Silent Run Deep with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.

He would go on to great popularity and success in such films as the Roger Corman cult classic The Man With The X-Ray Eyes, the quirky 1960s cult Drive-In ‘Beach’ comedy trilogy Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach and Beach Blanket Bingo, and a scene-stealing major co-starring role in the WWII comedy-heist classic Kelly’s Heroes along-side lifelong fan Clint Eastwood, along with Donald Sutherland and Telly Savalas.   

More recently, he co-starred for Blues Brothers, Animal House and An American Werewolf in London director John Landis as John Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Bergman in Innocent Blood, released in Australia as A French Vampire in America, as casino boss Billy Sherbert in Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic Casino, and into the hearts of millions as Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story. 

Therefore, throughout a lifetime of laughs on the big and small screens, you could only imagine my surprise when I received a message from a mutual friend to call Don Rickles, and even more surprised to learn it was his first and only Australian interview.

I nervously called him and he immediately made me feel at ease, we talked about his new DVD release, Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project, and subsequent conversations would also be a great joy!

And yes, he did insult me.  

He said on insult in his humour: ‘They always use the word ‘insult’ with me, but I don’t hurt anybody. I wouldn’t be sitting here if I did. I make fun of everybody and exaggerate all our insecurities.’

Tragedy struck Rickles in 2011 when their son Larry, who produced the HBO documentary Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project died at the age of 41, and was only a month shy of his 91st birthday, and recently celebrated his 52nd year of marriage to his wife Barbara.

He was a gentle, sweet, affectionate and loving man, a master of one of the greatest gifts of all, the gift of laughter, and the unique and extraordinary legacy of Don Rickles will live on brightly for generations to come!

Click PLAY to hear Jim interview Don Rickles:

Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project directed by John Landis is available on DVD.