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Comedian and Toy Story actor Don Rickles dies aged 90

Don Rickles, the US comedian whose verbal assaults endeared him to audiences and made him the acknowledged grandmaster of insult comedy, has died aged 90.

Rickles, who would have been 91 on May 8, suffered kidney failure and died on Thursday morning at his home, said Paul Shefrin, his long-time publicist and friend.

For more than half a century, Rickles headlined casinos and nightclubs from Las Vegas to Atlantic City, and livened up late-night talk shows.

No one was exempt from his put-downs, from presidents to fellow celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Johnny Carson.

Even volatile Sinatra let Rickles have his comedic way with him.

"Hey, Frank, make yourself at home. Hit somebody," Rickles snapped at the singer attending his show. Sinatra laughed.

Despite jokes that from other comics might have inspired boycotts, he was one of the most beloved people in showbusiness, idolised by everyone from Joan Rivers and Louis CK to Chris Rock and Sarah Silverman.

Billy Crystal tweeted: "A giant loss."

"We lost a great one. Fast furious brilliant for decades the definition of genius," Sandra Bernhard said on Twitter.

Some reaction to Rickles' death matched his style.

"In lieu of flowers, Don Rickles' family has requested that people drop their pants and fire a rocket," Patton Oswald tweeted.

James Caan once said that Rickles helped inspire the blustering Sonny Corleone of The Godfather.

An HBO special dedicated to the funnyman was directed by John Landis of Animal House fame, and included tributes from Clint Eastwood, Sidney Poitier and Robert De Niro.

Carl Reiner would say he knew he had made it in Hollywood when Rickles made fun of him.

Rickles patented a confrontational style that stand-up performers still emulate, but one that kept him on the right side of trouble.

He emerged in the late 1950s, a time when comics such as Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl were taking greater risks, becoming more politicised and more introspective.

Rickles managed to shock his audiences without cutting social commentary or truly personal self-criticism.

He operated under a code - go far with ethnic jokes, sex jokes, ribbing Carson for his many marriages, but make sure everyone knows it's for fun.

"I think the reason that (my act) caught on and gave me a wonderful career is that I was never mean-spirited," he once said. "Not that you had to like it, but you had to be under a rock somewhere not to get it."

In 2008, Rickles won the Emmy for best individual performance in a variety show for the Landis film Mr Warmth: The Don Rickles Project.

In 2012, he received the Johnny Carson Award for Comedic Excellence, a fitting tribute for a man whose big breakthrough came on The Tonight Show more than 40 years earlier.

Rickles' films ranged from comedies to dramas and included Run Silent, Run Deep, starring Clark Gable, The Rat Race, with Tony Curtis, Kelly's Heroes, with Eastwood), and Martin Scorsese's Casino.

He also appeared in four Beach Party films in the 1960s and provided the voice of Mr Potato Head in the animated Toy Story films.

"I did have somewhat of a career. I did some good movies," he said in 2007. "On the whole, I think that (movies) and Broadway are the two things that I would have liked to have a little more of. But I'm happy with my career."

AP

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