After graduating high school at the age of 18, Rickles did what any young able-bodied man did in the 1940's; he joined the Armed Forces. Following his high school graduation, Rickles hopped the train from his native Queens to Grand Central Station in order to enlist in the Navy. Hoping to get a role in the Special Services unit as an entertainer, Rickles was instead enlisted as a Seaman First Class. Rickles served his country for two years on the USS Cyrene before being honorably discharged in 1946. While he may not have had the opportunity to entertain on stage, Rickles definitely entertained his fellow sailors onboard the ship.
Relationship with Frank Sinatra
Rickles and Sinatra were close buddies during the days of the legendary "Rat Pack." The two became quick friends thanks in-part to their moms arranging an introduction. Rickles' mother, Etta, encouraged Dolly Sinatra to convince her son Frank to attend Don's act at Murray Franklin's nightclub in Miami. It was during that performance that Rickles performed his now-famous joke, "Make yourself at home, Frank. Hit Somebody!" Sinatra loved the bit so much, he went on to bestow the nickname of "Bullet Head" upon Rickles. Frank and Don's relationship was a jovial one, and included its fair share of silliness and gentlemanly pranking.
Rickles considers Bob Newhart to be one of his best friends. The two funny men have been friends ever since their wives introduced them in Las Vegas. The two couples immediately hit it off and are such great friends, that they actually travel the world together! In addition to being close, Rickles shares a great deal of professional respect for Newhart, saying he appreciates Bob's timing, presentation, and style. Rickles has said he considers Newhart one of comedy's biggest influencers.
Rickles has performed for four US Presidents, most famously for President Regan's Presidential Inauguration Ceremony in 1985. At the behest of Frank Sinatra, who refused to perform Regan's inauguration without his friend in tow, Rickles famously skewered the Commander-In-Chief. Don also got the chance to reconnect with his long time Kelly's Heroes co-star, Clint Eastwood, at Eastwood's Kennedy Center Honors during President Clinton's presidency.
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson and Don Rickles were thick as thieves during Carson's Tonight Show tenure, with Carson credited with giving Rickles his "Mr. Warmth" nickname. The nickname was a fitting choice for Rickles, who went on to perform over 100 times on Carson's late-night talker. In perhaps his most noteworthy appearance on the Tonight Show, Rickles joined Johnny in interviewing longtime friend Frank Sinatra. Behind the scenes, Rickles and Carson maintained a friendly rivalry. After an episode of the Tonight Show in which Bob Newhart had served as guest host, Carson returned to his late night post to learn that Rickles had broken a treasured cigarette box. Irate, Carson and his Tonight Show camera crew stormed down the hall to Rickles' live sitcom set, CPO Sharkey to read him the riot act. Carson managed to catch Rickles completely off-guard, and Rickles was left speechless by Carson. The tables had turned, and the man famous for "Rickling" his friends and colleagues, had been "out-Rickled."
Pitch Hitting for the Dodgers
Rickles has been a massive Los Angeles Dodgers fan for over 40 years. Because of his friendship with former Dodgers Manager, Tommy Lasorda, Rickles was able to experience a once-in-a lifetime moment for any sports fan. Lasorda invited Rickles to don a jersey and sit in the dugout with the team during the last game of the 1977 season. If that wasn't enough, Lasorda even had Rickles go out on the field and pull the pitcher in the sixth inning. After the pitcher refused to leave the mound, the home plate umpire decided to investigate. The pitcher wasn't too happy, but the umpire was thrilled when he realized the "coach" at the mound was Rickles.
The Matador Music
Ever wondered why Don Rickles prefers to take the stage to Spanish matador music? Well, in Rickles' own words, he likes to be introduced by the song, "La Virgen de la Macarena," because, "I always pictured myself facing the audience as the matador."