Legendary comedian Don Rickles may be one of the oldest “name” entertainers in Las Vegas and at the age of 89 (he turns 90 May 9), he’s not planning to retire anytime soon.
A multi-talented performer who has played roles in such movies as Run Silent Run Deep (1958), The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963), Kelly’s Heroes (1970), Enter Laughing (1967), Bikini Beach (1964), Toy Story (1995) Casino (1995), the native New Yorker is a Las Vegas legend who performed at many local venues in the old days such as the Casbar Lounge and the Congo Room of the Sahara Hotel, the Riviera and now The Orleans Hotel and Casino.
Throw in his friendships over the years with such noted entertainers like Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Bob Hope, to name a few, and you have a senior citizen who remains an invaluable part of Las Vegas long after many others have passed away.
Rickles has left his mark no matter where he performed and employees of the establishments have always enjoyed mixing with the man whose history in Southern Nevada goes back nearly 60 years. He has earned such caustic nicknames as Mr. Warmth, The Merchant of Venom and Glass Head.
From journalists to ex-mayors and the waiters and waitresses who worked the showrooms when dinner shows were immensely popular in Las Vegas, Rickles has identified with everyone. He made the term “hockey puck” a humorous insult and he wrote the book on how to thank employees for their service during his appearances.
Audiences enjoy Rickles’ trademark good natured insults which are aimed at members of the audience and society in general in what serves as the perfect gathering for humor. Because of his loveable personality, he has many friends in Las Vegas.
Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who is now the Ambassador for Las Vegas and the chairman of the host committee of the Las Vegas Convention Authority, applauds Rickles for his many years in the business.
“I hope he’s around for another 40 years,” Goodman said. “I love him and have the fondest memories of he and Shecky Greene. There is something about the old fellas that make them special and apart from anything else we know today.”
Rickles and Goodman played roles in the movie Casino. Goodman played Sam Rothstein’s attorney while Rickles starred as Billy Sherbert, Tangiers casino manager.
Automobile dealer Jim Marsh met Rickles back in the late 1970s or early 1980s and said he’ll never forget the encounter. In true Rickles style, Marsh could not escape the wrath of Las Vegas’s favorite comedian.
“He just looked down at my black and white shoes and made some sarcastic remark about them,” laughed Marsh adding that it was during that time when his car dealership television commercials highlighted not only his vehicles but also his shoes.
Las Vegas Review-Journal columist Norm Clarke has a classic story from the early days of Rickles in Las Vegas.
“He was one of the first entertainers I saw during my first trip to Las Vegas in 1989,” Clarke recalled. “I remember waiting in line and hearing show goers discussing strategy. Some were saying ‘No way do we want to be in the front rows. We’re getting tickets in the back.’
“They didn’t want to be in the line of fire. He’s one of the few entertainers who evoked those strong feelings.”
Restaurateur Freddie Glusman, owner of Piero’s Italian Cuisine in Las Vegas, is another of Rickles’ fans.
“I taught him how to ski on two skis at Lake Mead when he first started appearing at the Sahara,” Glusman recalled. “Don has been a good friend since he came to Las Vegas. Don and his wife, Barbara, eat at Piero’s all the time and love the place.”
Long-time broadcasting executive Len Howard has known Rickles for many years and he, too, has fond memories.
“Don was my best man in a 1961 wedding,” recalled Howard. “He pretended that he lost the rings and all hell was about to break loose when he found them in his pocket. I love Don and his mom both. She became a friend to my mom back in New Jersey.”
Rickles has certainly seen the changes in Las Vegas in the past several decades.
“I’ve been performing in Las Vegas for almost 60 years starting at The Sahara and now The Orleans,” he recalled recently. “I’ve watched the scene change from the days where you had just one boss through the days of Howard Hughes to now where it’s set up for all ages mixing a carnival atmosphere with gambling. But, just like always, it’s still loaded with excitement.”
To show that Rickles keeps up with current events, he said recently “If Donald Trump doesn’t win the presidency, he has no problem. He’ll buy the White House!”
Boyd Corporate Gaming Director of Entertainment Terry Jenkins started with Rickles about 21 years ago in Tunica, Miss.
“We have become friends over that time,” Jenkins said. “I think he loves to work and make people laugh. When he goes out on stage he just livens up even at almost 90.
He is always very appreciative and generous of the people who help him.”
Jenkins said Rickles has worked for the Boyd Group for 15 years.
“He always greets the crowd and our showroom manager,” Jenkins said. “He’s always so glad to see the same faces he has seen for so many years, and he’s a very special person to Boyd Gaming.”
In 2006, Rickles became the first superstar performer to be honored in the new Roman Plaza Walk of Fame at Caesars Palace.
“He’s a prince,” said Robin Feigelman, who worked as a pit clerk at the Sahara until April 1978. “His on-stage persona is the diametric opposite of the genuine individual he is off-stage. When I worked in the 21 pit, the Casbar Theater was directly to my left and I saw every one of his shows. In fact, I remember when he moved to the Congo Showroom he would enter the stage through the kitchen and he would stop and do a show for the employees.”
The ever-energetic Rickles has a 2016 schedule that stretches from one end of the country to the other. His March 23 appearance in the Richard B, Baumgardner Center of the Performing Arts of the Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Fla., with Regis Philbin will be especially memorable since it will also serve as the celebration of his 90th birthday party.
Rickles returns to the Orleans April 9-10 with other stops in Westbury, N.Y., Bethlehem, Pa. and Atlantic City, to name a few.
Further information regarding Rickles 2016 schedule can be found by visiting