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S1C Don Rickles, U.S. Navy (1944-1946), WWII

Before emerging as the renowned comedy legend celebrated for his wit and humor, Don Rickles navigated a significant chapter in his life that often goes overlooked. Long before his name became synonymous with laughter, Rickles dutifully answered his country’s call by enlisting in the United States Navy during World War II. These military years in the Navy laid the groundwork for the extraordinary career that would later make him a comedy icon adored by audiences worldwide.

Don Rickles’s Early Years

Donald Jay Rickles was born on May 8, 1926, in New York City. Raised in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, Rickles grew up in a close-knit Jewish family. Despite the financial challenges posed by the Great Depression, his parents Etta and Max Rickles nurtured his comedic talents, encouraging him to find laughter in everyday situations. 

After graduating from Newtown High School, Rickles embarked on a new chapter in his life. In response to his country’s call during World War II, he enlisted in the military service, joining the ranks of young men who felt a duty to serve their nation. 

Don Rickle’s Served During World War II

Young Don Rickles felt a deep sense of patriotism and a duty to serve his country during a time of global conflict. In 1944, at the height of World War II, Don Rickles enlisted in the United States Navy where he underwent rigorous training that tested his physical and mental endurance. He was stationed on the USS Cyrene, a submarine tender, and later on the USS PC-1264, a submarine chaser. He served as a seaman first class, working alongside fellow sailors in the Pacific Theater, and was responsible for various duties aboard the ships. In fact, he saw action at New Guinea and Leyte.

It was so hot and humid, the crew rotted,” he later observed about his wartime experience.

While stationed on the USS Cyrene, Rickles found opportunities to entertain his fellow sailors with his sharp wit and humor, using laughter as a coping mechanism amidst the challenges of military life. His quick wit and ability to make his comrades laugh soon became well-known among his fellow sailors. 

In 1946, after the war came to an end, Rickles received an honorable discharge from the Navy. While his military service had come to a close, the lessons he learned and the friendships he made during those years stayed with him, serving as a foundation for his remarkable career in comedy.

Don Rickles’s Path to Comedy Stardom

Two years later, upon returning to civilian life, Rickles pursued his passion for comedy, starting his career in the entertainment industry. He studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and then played bit parts on television. Rickles initially struggled to find his comedic voice but persevered, performing in small clubs in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. His breakthrough came when he embraced his unique style of insult comedy, a distinctive approach that endeared him to audiences and fellow comedians alike.

In the 1950s, Rickles gained recognition for his sharp-tongued humor and fearless approach to comedy. He became a regular performer in Las Vegas, where he honed his improvisational skills and interacted with audiences in ways that left them in stitches. Rickles’s quick wit and ability to turn any situation into comedic gold earned him the nickname “Mr. Warmth,” a playful contradiction to his often biting humor.

Rickles became notorious for labeling rude audience members as “hockey pucks.” Although his comedic approach resembled that of the seasoned insult comic Jack E. Leonard, Rickles vehemently denied being influenced by Leonard’s style. In an interview on Larry King Live, he attributed his inspiration for entering show business to the comedy style of Milton Berle.

Rickles’s career reached new heights when he made appearances on popular television shows, showcasing his comedic prowess to a broader audience. His memorable performances on programs like “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts” solidified his status as one of the funniest and most beloved comedians of his time.


Unusual Facts about Don Rickles

Don Rickles, the iconic comedian, was not only known for his sharp wit and humor but also had some interesting and unusual facts associated with his life. There are a few lesser-known facts about Don Rickles:

  1. Unlikely Friendship with Frank Sinatra: Don Rickles had a close friendship with legendary singer Frank Sinatra. Sinatra, who was usually quite serious and private, appreciated Rickles’ humor and often attended his shows. Rickles’ ability to mock Sinatra without repercussions speaks volumes about their bond.
  1. Voice Acting in Toy Story Films: Rickles provided the voice for Mr. Potato Head, the beloved character from the Toy Story film series. He voiced the character in all three original films despite his passing in 2017. Pixar, the studio behind Toy Story, used archived recordings and alternate takes to include him in the movies posthumously.
  1. Inspired by Insults: Rickles’ distinctive style of comedy was inspired by his ability to handle insults as a child. He realized that making people laugh was a way to deflect negativity and turn it into something positive. This resilience contributed to his legendary career as a stand-up comedian.

15 Famous Films with Don Rickles

While he was primarily known for his comedy, Rickles also demonstrated his acting skills in various roles across different genres. 

  1. Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) – In this war film, Rickles played the role of Ruby, a crew member aboard a submarine during World War II.
  1. The Rat Race (1960) – Rickles appeared as a character named Nellie.
  1. X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) – He played Crane, a carnival barker, in this science fiction film.
  1. Kelly’s Heroes (1970) – Rickles portrayed Staff Sergeant “Crapgame” in this war comedy alongside Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas.
  1. Muscle Beach Party (1964) – Rickles played the character Jack Fanny in this beach party film featuring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.
  1. Pajama Party (1964) – He reprised his role as Jack Fanny in this musical comedy.
  1. Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) – Rickles appeared once again as Jack Fanny in this beach party film series.
  1. Enter Laughing (1967) – He played the role of Harry Hamburger in this comedy film based on Carl Reiner’s semi-autobiographical novel.
  1. The Money Jungle (1967) – Rickles portrayed the character of Jackie, a comedian, in this comedy film.
  1. Where It’s At (1969) – He played a character named Mr. Jones in this comedy-drama film.
  1. Daddy’s Deadly Darling (1972) – Rickles appeared in this horror film as a character named Jake.
  1. Silent Movie (1976) – He made a cameo appearance as himself in this comedy film directed by Mel Brooks.
  1. C.P.O. Sharkey (TV Series, 1976-1978) – Rickles starred as Chief Petty Officer Otto Sharkey in this television sitcom.
  1. Casino (1995) – He played Billy Sherbert, a casino manager, in this crime film directed by Martin Scorsese.
  1. Toy Story (1995), Toy Story 2 (1999), Toy Story 3 (2010) – Rickles lent his voice to Mr. Potato Head, a beloved character in the Toy Story animated film series.

These films represent just a portion of Don Rickles’ extensive filmography. His contributions to the entertainment industry through these roles have left a lasting impact, making him a beloved figure among fans of comedy and film.

Don Rickles: Philanthropic Efforts and Charitable Contributions

Don Rickles left a significant impact through his philanthropic endeavors and dedication to various charitable causes. Beyond the laughter he brought to audiences worldwide, Rickles was deeply committed to making a positive difference in the lives of others.

One of Rickles’ notable contributions was his unwavering support for military veterans. Having served in the United States Navy during World War II, Rickles understood the sacrifices made by servicemen and women. He actively participated in charitable initiatives aimed at assisting veterans, ensuring they received the support they deserved after their dedicated service to the nation.

In addition to his dedication to veterans, Rickles was a passionate advocate for healthcare causes. He supported medical research and treatment facilities, contributing to advancements in healthcare that have benefited countless individuals. Rickles’ generosity extended to various hospitals and healthcare organizations, enabling them to provide high-quality care to patients in need.

Rickles also had a keen interest in supporting educational initiatives. Understanding the importance of education in shaping future generations, he contributed to scholarship programs and educational institutions. His contributions helped provide opportunities for deserving students to pursue their dreams and achieve academic success.

Also, Rickles was known for his charitable donations to humanitarian organizations, disaster relief efforts, and community development projects. His philanthropic efforts were driven by a genuine desire to make the world a better place for everyone.

In addition to his financial contributions, Rickles used his platform and comedic influence to raise awareness about various social issues. His humor often carried messages of unity, kindness, and understanding, encouraging audiences to embrace compassion and empathy in their interactions with others.

Don Rickles: Awards and Honors

Throughout his illustrious career, Don Rickles received several awards and honors in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the entertainment industry. Here are some of the notable awards and accolades received by Don Rickles:

Emmy Awards:

In 2008, Rickles won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program for the documentary “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project.”

American Comedy Awards:

Rickles received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the American Comedy Awards in 1998, honoring his significant impact on the world of comedy.

TV Land Awards:

In 2008, he was honored with the Legend Award at the TV Land Awards, recognizing his contributions to television and pop culture.

Comedy Central Roast:

Rickles was the subject of a Comedy Central Roast in 1998, where fellow comedians and celebrities gathered to humorously roast him in a televised event. Being roasted in this manner is considered a mark of respect in the comedy world.

Las Vegas Walk of Stars:

Don Rickles was awarded a star on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars, cementing his status as a beloved entertainer in the city known for its entertainment industry.

Friars Club Entertainment Icon Award:

Rickles received the Entertainment Icon Award from the Friars Club in New York City, an honor given to individuals who have made enduring contributions to the world of entertainment.

Ellis Island Medal of Honor:

In 1993, Rickles was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, recognizing individuals who have made significant contributions to society, culture, and their respective fields.

These awards showcase the widespread recognition and admiration for Don Rickles’ talent, humor, and impact on the entertainment industry. 

Don Rickles’s Enduring Legacy

Tragically, on April 6, 2017, Don Rickles passed away at the age of 90 at his home in Los Angeles, California, due to kidney failure. His death marked the end of an era in comedy, leaving a void that is difficult to fill. Fans and fellow comedians mourned the loss of a comedic icon, celebrating his legacy through tributes and fond memories.

Don Rickles’s unique brand of humor, characterized by sharp wit and genuine affection, remains a source of inspiration for comedians and fans alike. Together We Served fondly remembers “Mr. Warmth,” it celebrates the enduring laughter and love he shared with the world, ensuring that his legacy continues to bring joy for years to come.

Read About Other Celebrities Who Served

If you enjoyed learning about Don Rickles’s service in the military, we invite you to read the stories of other remarkable celebrities who served on our blog. In addition to our profiles of celebrities who served, we share military book reviews, veterans’ service reflections, famous military units and more on the TogetherWeServed.com blog. If you are a veteran, find your military buddies, view historic boot camp photos, build a printable military service plaque, and more on TogetherWeServed.com today.


Tags: American Academy of Dramatic Art, Don Rickles enlisted in the United States Navy, Don Rickles passed away at the age of 90, Donald Jay Rickles, Ellis Island Medal of Honor, Etta and Max Rickles, famous military units, Jack E. Leonard, Larry King Live, Legend Award at the TV Land Awards, Mel Brooks, military book reviews, Mr. Potato Head, Muscle Beach Party, Newtown High School, Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Performance, singer Frank Sinatra, The Money Jungle, Together We Served, USS Cyrene, USS PC-1264, veterans’ service reflections, World War II

1 Comment

  1. Elbert Eugene Clayton

    This is a wonderful posting for those of us of a certain age and familiar with Mr. Rickles long list of noteworthy contributions to his country, family and the actor’s community. However, the lead Title “Don Rickles, U.S. Army (1975-1978)” is either wrongly dated or I am missing something in the posting. I suspect it may refer to his WWII dates of service, but I am not sure. Please advise me.


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