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Don Rickles, Comedy’s Equal Opportunity Offender, Dies at 90

Don Rickles, the acidic stand-up comic who became world-famous not by telling jokes but by insulting his audience, died on Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 90.
Don Rickles, Comedy’s Equal Opportunity Offender, Dies at 90

The cause was kidney failure, said a spokesman, Paul Shefrin, according to The New York Times.

For more than half a century, on nightclub stages, in concert halls and on television, Mr. Rickles made outrageously derisive comments about people’s looks, their ethnicity, their spouses, their sexual orientation, their jobs or anything else he could think of. He didn’t discriminate: His incendiary unpleasantries were aimed at the biggest stars in show business (Frank Sinatra was a favorite target) and at ordinary paying customers.

His rise to national prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s roughly coincided with the success of “All in the Family,” the groundbreaking situation comedy whose protagonist, Archie Bunker, was an outspoken bigot. Mr. Rickles’s humor was similarly transgressive. But he went further than Archie Bunker, and while Carroll O’Connor, who played Archie, was speaking words someone else had written — and was invariably the butt of the joke — Mr. Rickles, whose targets included his fellow Jews, never needed a script and was always in charge.

One night, on learning that some members of his audience were German, he said, “Forty million Jews in this country, and I got four Nazis sitting here in front waiting for the rally to start.” He said that America needed Italians “to keep the cops busy” and blacks “so we can have cotton in the drugstore,” and that “Asians are nice people, but they burn a lot of shirts.” He might ask a man in the audience, “Is that your wife?” and, when the man answered yes, respond: “Oh, well. Keep your chin up.”