My wife said, "Don Rickles is the first comedian that I ever hated." This is significant since, to paraphrase Denis Leary, the list of things she hates are Mean People. End of list. Also significant since Denis Leary is one of the comedians my wife adores, and who owes his career to the trailblazing that Mister Rickles did decades in advance. Once you get the joke, as my wife eventually did, that Don Rickles was the id of stand up comedy, then it becomes funny. Hysterical even. Like a roller coaster ride built to take you to the brink of awful only to pull you back on the track with a "I kid..." Just before another plunge into eye-rolling bitter sarcasm. Not for the faint of heart or faint of humor.
My wife grew to love and respect Don Rickles. Some might go so far as to suggest that we named our first born son after him. They would be wrong, but they could suggest that. She did grow to love the spud incarnation of Mister Rickles. His Mr. Potato Head was a well-known friend in our house, My son learned to love Don Rickles without ever having to hate him.
I never hated Don Rickles. He made me very nervous, but I never hated him. I could see from my spot on the living room floor that this was a guy who made lots of other people laugh. Usually at their own expense. And they loved him for it. He was the guy who got to make fun of Bob Hope. Nobody made fun of Bob Hope. Don Rickles did. He applied the same take-no-prisoners affect to Bob Hope that he took to the guy who happened to be in the front row, nodding his head. He was merciless. He was cruel.
And this was a persona. Years later, when I discovered that he and Bob Newhart were best friends, and went on lavish vacations together with their wives, it became clear that this was an act. Someone as kind and gentle as Bob Newhart could have Don Rickles for a best friend? And Bob wasn't married to Suzanne Pleshette? It was all part of show business, and Don Rickles was right in the heart of that machine. Odd now, of course, using the word "heart" in a description of Don, but that's the reality behind the persona.
Spread the love for the dear departed hockey puck. He stomped on the Terra and chewed it up too. Aloha, Mister Warmth.