One comedian bears the title “Master of Insult” as he became known for his demeaning but humbling insults that shook even the most prolific celebrities. As he grew older, he feared becoming irrelevant. The culture has changed, and the jokes are different, but the wit of Don Rickles will never be forgotten.
On Wednesday, Rickles died of kidney failure at the young age of 90. “I know it’s crazy to say he was too young,” late night host Jimmy Kimmel said while commemorating his mentor during his Wednesday monologue, “but it was because he was youthful and funny and sharp and generous.”
Most millennials have no idea who Rickles was, and still is, as he will always be remembered as one of the most influential stand-up comedians of all time.
Howard Stern gave tribute to his idol on Monday, and he had his radio show’s street correspondents go around Manhattan asking young people if they knew about Rickles’ legacy. They were clueless to his existence. One of the most wholesome celebrity personalities to have graced our television screens seems mostly forgotten.
Rickles lives on through his wife of 52 years, Barbara. He stayed with this lucky lady the majority of his life as he stayed tremendously faithful not only to her but his many companions.
Rickles was close with the Rat Pack, which included the likes of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. Martin would have countless celebrity roasts throughout his and the Pack’s American entertainment reign.
Now, when people talk about celebrity roasts they think of the silly, obscene roasts that Comedy Central puts on for some of the worst, most selfish people in entertainment. Justin Bieber, David Hasselhoff and even Donald Trump are some of the unfortunate names to have insults heaped on by other celebrities. These roasts mostly mock the insufferable, even more than they make mockeries of themselves.
The Martin roasts were nothing like these. They included the best of the best in Hollywood at the time. The most beautiful people with the most profound careers, and then there was Don Rickles.
He was beady-eyed, short and balding, but his stage presence and show-stealing persona made Martin’s confidence look like a shy little kid acting in his first play.
He was shocking, he was captivating, but most importantly, he was loving. Rickles made fun of everyone, “well, except the Jews,” as he would constantly joke, being of Jewish descent. Rickles made fun of you and exaggerated every walk of life’s humorous intricacies.
After former President Barack Obama was elected, Rickles made a politically incorrect joke about the former president, and at Rickles’ “One Night Only” tribute on Spike in 2014, Tracy Morgan defended his hero.
“Who are the people to say black people can’t take a joke?” Morgan said, “You know why I love you the most, Don? You never discriminated. I love you man.”
But I know this man is unknown to most of this college-aged readership, so this isn’t a tribute to the man loved by all of his generation. This is a plea.
Go on YouTube, buy the Dean Martin roast box sets advertised all day on cable, talk to your elders about his prevalence, do whatever you can to know what this man meant to shock-factor comedy.
Rickles may have been called the Master of Insult throughout his career, but he went by another nickname because of how he warmed the hearts of all the people who came through his life. His long-time friend, Bob Saget, said, “He did it out of love. But then when he was mean to you, it was like a privilege. It was like a gift.”
Goodbye, Mr. Warmth.
Angelo Errico is a senior journalism major from Concord, North Carolina