Some of Mindy Rickles’ earliest memories are of watching her dad perform. “During his shows in Las Vegas, I sat in the wings,” she recalls to Closer. “At the end, he would introduce me and everyone would applaud.”
Comedian Don Rickles’ insults flew fast and furious for more than five decades, and no one, no matter how powerful or famous, was exempt from his biting wit — except perhaps for his family! “I guess if I said something dumb, he’d make fun of it,” Mindy admits. “But nothing insulting, just really funny.”
Yes, the secret is out! Underneath the caustic comedian’s gruff exterior lay the heart of a pussycat who loved his family and watching sports — especially his beloved LA Dodgers. “The TV remote control was his life!” Mindy jokes. “He really enjoyed his relaxing time.”
Don, a New York native and WWII veteran, married Barbara Sklar in 1965 — the same year he first appeared on The Tonight Show. The couple had two children: Mindy, who followed in her father’s footsteps as a comedian, and Larry, a screenwriter and TV producer.
“My parents were complete opposites,” says Mindy, 55, who adds that Don likened Barbara to the calming influence of Valium. “My mother handled most everything, which allowed my dad to work without worry,” she explains.
Don’s marriage found its way into his act, but not in a mean-spirited way. “My father would imitate her on stage or make fun of her jewelry obsession, but she laughed,” Mindy remembers. “That’s one of the reasons their marriage lasted so long. She had a wonderful sense of humor.”
From the beginning of their marriage, being on the road was part of their life together. “If my dad was busy working, my mom would explore the town they were in by herself. She’d send me pictures from the middle of nowhere,” Mindy recalls. Especially when the kids were young, their whole family would travel together — including Don’s mother, Etta. “We also went to almost every dinner he was invited to,” Mindy says.
When Mindy told her father she intended to become a stand-up comedian, he was supportive but concerned. “He was nervous for me because he knows that the business is full of rejection and he didn’t want me to get hurt,” says Mindy, who adds her dad began to relax after he realized that she could handle a crowd. “He grew very proud of me,” she admits. “He lent an ear if I had a bad night and was always there for me.”
But the Rickles’ family also weathered some hardships. Mindy’s brother, Larry, who won an Emmy for a documentary about Don’s work, died from pneumonia at age 41 in 2011. Don sought solace in his work and his adoring audience. “Whether it’s 10 people or 300 people, an audience is still an audience,” Don told Closer months before his death at 90 in 2017.
“If people keep showing up to see you, then it’s still a high.” Although Don liked to poke fun at his audience, they were always in on the joke. “He always told me, ‘Keep my name alive,’ and that’s a big reason I use my maiden name, Rickles,” says Mindy. “He wanted to be known as a nice guy, as he sang in his act, and that he really loved his family.”