By Tammy Scileppi
They call him Mr. Warmth and the Merchant of Venom for his trademark sarcastic and berating insults targeted at those innocent yet willing victims who make up his audience. He will call the really annoying ones hockey pucks.
To close buddy, Frank Sinatra he was just Bullet Head.
He played opposite Burt Lancaster and Clark Gable in his first flick, “Run Silent, Run Deep” (1958). In about a half dozen theatrical and straight-to-video versions of “Toy Story” movies, he is the voice of Mr. Potato Head.
Legendary stand-up comedian and actor Don Rickles grew up in Jackson Heights, where his Jewish family spoke only Yiddish at home.
He attended Newtown High School in Elmhurst and after a couple of years in the Navy during World War II, did stand-up gigs at Borscht Belt hotels in the Catskill Mountains.
“Don Rickles spent his life insulting people like it was an art form, and the comedy world will forever be changed because of it,” said Rebecca Trent, owner of Long Island City comedy club, The Creek & The Cave. “His biting wit and willingness to cut you to the quick, regardless of who you are, is refreshing. In an industry that can be a little less than honest and a little butt kissy, Don stays Don and we love him for it.”
Forget about political correctness when you’re in Rickles’ world.
As soon as that sharp tongue starts spewing those rapid fire put downs, you’re in for it. His humor is addictive.
“Don Rickles does what every comic wants to do: be really, really mean to people’s faces and have everyone love it,” said Queens native and comic Barry Rothbart.
The summer kicked off with an 88th-birthday celebration telecast on Spike TV titled “One Night Only: An All-Star Comedy Tribute to Don Rickles.”
The black-tie affair, taped at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, included appearances by A-list celebrities Jerry Seinfeld, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro.
Back in his hometown, Rickles was fondly roasted by his closest friends, co-stars and comedians, who honored their hero.
Personal stories were told by those whose lives Rickles had touched in some way.
A favorite “victim,” Robert De Niro, had co-starred with Rickles in “Casino” (1995), and their experience working together made for hysterical banter during the show.
Johnny Depp, who worships Rickles, said he always felt neglected and even sought therapy because the comic had never insulted him.
And Scorsese quipped, “We wanted to honor your memory, Don, so here we are. Though, if I’d been directing this, I don’t think I would have gone for the open casket.”
Comics Tina Fey and Amy Poehler couldn’t resist poking fun at the frail but feisty octogenarian:
“It’s almost like he’s here with us,” said Fey. “You can feel his spirit in this room tonight.”
“Tina! He is here, said Poehler.
“I thought that was somebody’s purse,” said Fey.
“The genius of Rickles is in the danger, nobody is safe….,” said Casey Patterson, executive vice president with Viacom Entertainment Group. When the tribute was over, Rickles thanked everyone there and paid homage to his Queens roots.
His wife, one of his favorite comedy routine subjects, attended, along with daughter, Mindy.