The artistry of Don Rickles has spanned not only the decades, but virtually all mediums of entertainment. From the seminal years of the Hello Dummy album, to the film work (Kelly's Heroes, Beach Blanket Bingo), to television's lauded C.P.O. Sharkey and Kibbee Hates Fitch--the 1965 sitcom pilot that is now the stuff of legend--Rickles' talent has responded, chameleonlike, to new show-business territory.
A staple of the Vegas-Tahoe-Atlantic City circuit, Rickles still packs em in with his pioneering brand of insult comedy. He recently stepped out of the pool in his Los Angeles mansion to answer a few questions, reminiscing on his tenure in The Biz and offering tantalizing glimpses of Frank Sinatra from the vast wellspring of Ricklesania.
Don: I know Frank Sinatra personally, okay? That's it.
New Times: Are you afraid of him?
Don: He's afraid of me, cause he knows I could wipe him out.
NT: What's it like hanging out with him? Is he a funny guy?
Don: When Sinatra walks into a restaurant, the place stops. You'll never see that again. I've been around almost every major star you can think of, major people that I respect tremendously, and I've never seen anything like it. He's got that magic. And Sinatra, believe it or not, makes me laugh. He's got a great insight on comedy, cause he's been around for so many years; he's fun to be with and he tells a story well.
NT: Why weren't you in the Rat Pack (the Vegas pranks n' booze club that included Frank, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop)?
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Don: I hung around them, but I wasn't part of that scene. I wasn't quite the name I am today; in those days, I was still in the lounge. But Sinatra knew me then, used to hang out at the Sands Hotel in the steam room. That was a wild thing, that was a movie in itself. Joey Bishop, Dean, Sammy, Lawford, myself.
NT: You hung out with the Beatles in 64, right?
Don: That's right. I was working in Florida and they were doing a concert there. They stopped by the hotel and saw my show--I was working the lounge--and I got to know them. They were the hottest things in the world, I'd say a very excitable group of guys. I picked on them quite a bit in those days.
NT: Do you like any rock these days?
Don: I adore Sting. I love U2 and Bono; I introduced them to Sinatra backstage at the Golden Nugget. I thought they were the homeless with those outfits. I said, 'You guys got to be better-dressed to meet Frank!' I knew the Beach Boys socially and I enjoy their music. And I'm a big fan of Bruce Springsteen.
NT: What do you really like?
Don: I'm still from the old school. Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Louis Prima, I grew up on that. And I enjoy Frank's records, naturally.