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Don Rickles Dies At 90. His Insult Comedy Was An Art Form

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now an appreciation for a comedian who turned insult into art form.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DON RICKLES: Governor Reagan or Reegan (ph), whatever they call you.

(LAUGHTER)

RONALD REAGAN: Reagan.

RICKLES: I don't care.

(LAUGHTER)

RICKLES: You're the governor, and if I got a cousin getting the chair, you better make that phone call.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: That, of course, the voice of Don Rickles. He died yesterday at the age of 90. He was controversial, unfiltered. No one was safe, including then Governor Ronald Reagan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICKLES: You were a politician. Black, white, Jew, gentile - we're all working for one cause - to figure out how you became governor.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Rickles' career spanned decades. He did movies and TV. He hung with guys like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Johnny Carson. And he told Larry King he developed his signature style by accident. Rickles was a young stand-up comic. No one was laughing at his prepared material. One guy in the front row wouldn't even look up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICKLES: And suddenly I leaned down and said, sir, I'm getting fed up with you. Either you watch or I'm going to suck your neck or words to that effect. And suddenly people started to laugh.

MARTIN: And they kept laughing. Rickles performed into his 80s, and Don Rickles, the roastmaster, didn't make a lot of enemies. He was, in his words, the guy who goes to the office Christmas party, insults the boss but still has his job on Monday morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF HARRY JAMES ORCHESTRA'S "MUSIC MAKERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.