A little over two decades ago, Martin Scorsese cast insult-comic legend Don Rickles in his movie Casino as Billy Sherbert, a casino manager who works with Robert De Niro’s character Sam Rothstein. While making the movie, he bonded with the director, who has penned a statement paying tribute to the late comedian.
“Don Rickles was a giant, a legend … and I can hear his voice now, skewering me for being so lofty,” Scorsese wrote. “I had the honor of working with him on my picture Casino. He was a professional. He kept me doubled over with laughter every day on the set – yet he was a complete pro.
“We became friends over the years and I had the honor of being roasted by him more than once – sometimes when I didn’t expect it,” he continued. “He just started showing up at places and insulting me.
“Experiencing Don, and tuning into his mind, I witnessed the evolution of his comedy,” he concluded. “It was like listening to a great jazz musician wail. Nobody else did what he did. He made comedy into an art form. And like all geniuses, comic or otherwise, he’s irreplaceable. He was much loved. I’m really missing this man.”
In 2014, Scorsese and De Niro gave heartwarming tribute to Rickles, with the director and actor pointing out an interesting coincidence. After doing eight pictures together, Scorsese noted that he and De Niro made Casino with Rickles — and they haven’t worked together since. “On behalf of Leo DiCaprio, thanks a lot,” De Niro said.
At the time of the movie’s release, Scorsese said he wanted to cast Vegas royalty like Rickles because it would give the movie a sense of authenticity. Rickles had spent a lot of time at the Sands Casino, where he hung out with the Rat Pack and Steve Lawrence. Because of that, creating his character was easy for him.
“Billy Sherbert is a combination of guys I’ve known,” Rickles said, according to the movie’s production notes. “It didn’t take a great amount of concentration on my part because I grew up in this town. I pretty much knew these guys. I just played them like I used to see them walking around.”