Caustic Borscht Belt comedian Don Rickles — who married a Philadelphia native named Barbara Sklar — died April 6 at the age of 90, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Rickles won fame for his acerbic wit, earning nicknames such as “The Merchant of Venom” and “The King of Zing” and was still performing until recently, with his website listing future performances. It appears he last performed in the Philadelphia area in 2015.
An appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1965 launched Rickles to his greatest period of fame, as he repeatedly insulted a laughing Carson, who dubbed Rickles “Mr. Warmth,” the Times said.
Aside from his career in stand-up, Rickles appeared often in television and in film. His credits, according to imdb.com, included Casino, The Don Rickles Show, C.P.O. Sharkey and as a voice actor as Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story and its sequels. He also was regularly a guest star on shows such as Newhart, Sanford and Son, Get Smart, The Lucy Show and Gilligan’s Island.
The Queens, N.Y. native never forgot about his Jewish faith, according to a September 1983 article in the Jewish Exponent, in which he mentioned a trip to Israel where his son had his Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall. Rickles was in town then to perform at the Valley Forge Music Fair with Debbie Reynolds, who died Dec. 28.
“It was great watching my son carry the Torah,” he said. “It was quite emotional for me.”
Of course, Rickles threw in some smart-aleck remarks as well.
“Oh, it was about 190 degrees — though maybe that’s not the correct temperature,” he said.
In the same article, Rickles noted that he had been to Israel two years earlier on a United Jewish Appeal mission and was active with Hebrew University.
“When you’re a Zionist, it’s do or die,” he said. “Israelis still have a good attitude.”
The article also noted that Rickles had performed a benefit for Sinai Temple in West Los Angeles to build the Barbara and Don Rickles Gymnasium there.