I'm often asked who my favorite interview subject has been, and with 30 years of doing it - you'd think it's a difficult question to answer.
Every time I'm asked that, Don Rickles is one of my top 2 answers (the other is Eric Weihenmayer, a blind hiker who scaled Everest). For those who don't know, Rickles is a legendary comedian who skewered every race, religion, and cultural background equally- and he did it with love. Hard to believe nowadays, but that was the magic that was Rickles. He took no prisoners, but he loved everybody. He was simply an equal opportunity offender.
I interviewed Don twice and he started both interviews by going after me. I was honored to be made fun of by him. He represented, to me, the last of the old school entertainers. A friend to Sinatra, you just know he had a million stories, and I'd have killed to hear them all.
When I asked about him and Frank, he talked about Frank's nickname for him (Bullethead, and Rhino), and how during their daily sauna at The Sands in Vegas (at the height of the Rat Pack)- Frank once got mad at him and pushed him outside, and locked the door behind him. The problem? Rickles was naked, and now standing next to the hotel pool - with people everywhere! Classic...
I met him once at Palace Theater in Manchester, courtesy of my friend Jim Roach. Rickles' show still ranks as one of the best I've seen - and he had just killed it on stage when Jim grabbed me to bring me backstage. I was just about crapping my pants. And then, there, just off stage to the left, in a chair with a drink, and a towl draped over him - was the legend.
He called my name first. "Greg! How are you?". I'll never forget that. He called my name first - like he knew me (obviously, he didn't - but in that moment - he made me feel completely at home, and chased any nerves I had about meeting him). He profusely thanked me for helping with the show, and attending - and I was, like - "You're thanking ME? Wow- it should be the other way around!".
But that's just who he was.
He was down to earth. He was humble and kind. And his handshake was warm and sincere. I remember it like it was yesterday. We talked about his wife and family, and his visits to New Hampshire, and a little more about Sinatra. And as he talked, I just took it in, and appreciated it. He was like a lovable grandfather.
I told him it was the honor of a lifetime to be made fun of by him- and he said we all need to laugh and not take everything so seriously. Man, he was so right. I didn't want to hold him up, or keep him from whatever an icon does after a show- so I just thanked him profusely, and shook his hand again.
As I shook it, I thought- "he's shaken hands with Sinatra, and every great actor and musician from the last 50 years".
He just patted me on the shoulder and said "No, thank YOU, Greg"....
And that was it.
I know that Don Rickles wasn't a guy you saw much anymore - on tv or movies, but still, I will miss him.
He was one of the highlights of my professional life.
Rest in Peace, Bullethead...
Tell Frank I said "Hello"...