This past week, the world received the news that legendary performer Don Rickles had passed away at age 90. If you only remember Mr. Rickles as a caustic insult comic, you have missed a lot of his legendary career and his impact on show business and beyond.
Don Rickles was a talented actor performing in a number of great movies. Among his early film roles, he acted alongside Clark Gable in Run Silent, Run Deep. Then a decade later, he joined forces with Clint Eastwood and a great ensemble cast in the timeless classic movie Kelly’s Heroes. More recently, he had starred alongside Robert De Niro in the film Casino.
Don Rickles did a countless number of appearances in classic TV series from The Twilight Zone to The Andy Griffith Show. Late in his career, he did a number of voiceovers for animated shows where, most notably, he became known to a generation of kids as Mr. Potato Head. But no one will ever forget Don Rickles’ live performances.
I first experienced Don Rickles live on opening night of the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. Don Rickles was the opening act for Frank Sinatra, and it remains a great tribute to Mr. Sinatra’s prowess as a performer that he was consistently willing to take the stage immediately after Don Rickles. That night, Rickles insulted audience members representing every imaginable religious and ethnic persuasion. He was merciless, but somehow everyone in the arena knew it was merely good-natured fun.
Then as his performance drew to a close, I will never forget him walking to the edge of the stage where he stood right above the footlights and addressed that vast audience as if he were speaking to his best friend in a one-on-one conversation. Don Rickles told of growing up as a Jew during the rise of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. He spoke of hatred, bigotry, and discrimination that exists around the world, and he reminded us all that when we are laughing together, we’re not arguing, crying, or killing. He explained that when we fight or argue about anything, we make it larger, but when we laugh at it, we can make it smaller or eliminate it entirely. As Don Rickles left the stage, we were all impacted by his energy, humor, and love.
Several years later, I had the privilege of interviewing Frank Sinatra, and I spoke of that opening night at the MGM Grand when he and Rickles had shared the stage. Mr. Sinatra told me that Don Rickles was one of his best friends, and no matter the pain, turmoil, or pressure that Mr. Sinatra might be going through at any time, he said, “Don could make me laugh.”
Beyond breaking down barriers and attacking bigotry, making people laugh may well be Don Rickles’ best and most lasting legacy.
As you go through your day today, try confronting your next argument or dispute with laughter.
Today’s the day!
Jim Stovall is the president of Narrative Television Network, as well as a published author of many books including The Ultimate Gift. He is also a columnist and motivational speaker. He may be reached by email at Jim@JimStovall.com; on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jimstovallauthor; or follow Jim on Twitter @StovallAuthor.