Watch Jimmy Kimmel's Emotional Tribute to Don Rickles - Rolling Stone
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Watch Jimmy Kimmel’s Emotional Tribute to Don Rickles

Host remembers late insult comic master by recounting hilarious Frank Sinatra story, reading handwritten notes

Jimmy Kimmel delivered an extended, poignant tribute to comedy legend Don Rickles, his close friend and frequent guest, on Thursday’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! The host, voice quivering, devoted his full 13-minute monologue to the insult master, who died from kidney failure earlier that day at age 90. “I know it sounds crazy to say he was too young, but he was,” Kimmel said. “Because he was youthful and funny and sharp and generous.”

The host opened with a hilarious story Bob Newhart told him about eating dinner with Rickles and a “surly” Frank Sinatra at a swanky restaurant with all-white decor. “Frank was drinking, and he was not in a good mood,” Kimmel recounted. After the waiter came to their table and put a ketchup bottle in front of Sinatra, the crooner flipped out.

“He doesn’t want ketchup on the table, so he takes the bottle, in a very crowded, elegant restaurant, and he throws it at the wall,” he continued. “The bottle smashes, and there’s ketchup everywhere. And everyone in the restaurant stops – there’s a gasp. And Don, without missing a beat, turns and says, ‘Frank, will you pass the ketchup?’ Sinatra laughs, and everyone laughs, and nobody dies that night, thanks to Don.”

Kimmel admitted it took persistence to book Rickles on the show. After the staff “bothered him like 20 times,” he appeared on host’s 2006 birthday episode. “It was like I was in some kind of talk show host fantasy camp: sitting behind a desk while Don Rickles made fun of me,” he recalled. “It was like being a real talk show host for a minute.”

Rickles made 17 more appearances on Kimmel Live, and the iconic comic would always go out to dinner with Kimmel after the episode. One night, the host recalled, he already made plans to eat with another insult master, Jeff Ross, but by chance, Rickles showed up at the same restaurant and was seated next to them. “He hammered me and heckled me through the whole meal,” Kimmel said, “until finally I just got up moved over to his table.”

Kimmel ended his tribute to Rickles, “probably the greatest talk show guest of all-time,” by reading some hand-written notes the late comic sent to him over the years. “Dear Jimmy, thanks so much for inviting me to your home for dinner, but to be honest, we would have preferred a three-month trip to Venice, Italy,” the host said, cackling. “Dear Jimmy: We watched your Academy Awards show. [Rickles’ wife] Barbara loved every minute of it, but here’s what I thought: You were on camera too much. All in all, it was OK. We love ya, so don’t worry.”

Adam Sandler, on the show promoting his new Netflix film Sandy Wexler, also recalled a hilarious Rickles encounter. Over two decades ago, Sandler and actor Steve Buscemi were eating dinner at a restaurant when Rickles approached the table and unleashed some signature zingers: “I saw your movie,” he said to Buscemi, referring to his performance in 1992’s Reservoir Dogs. “Mr. Pink? More like Mr. Stink!” Sandler also wasn’t same from his comedic wrath: “I saw Happy Gilmore, watched the whole thing. Amazing how no talent can get you a movie.”

Don Rickles, the legendary insult comic, has died at age 90.


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