Now that Don Rickles has been dead for a while and an appropriate time has passed, here’s my personal recollection.
Some years ago, maybe ten or 15 years ago, for my birthday, my wife took me to Atlantic City to see Rickles and play blackjack. I followed all the rules, but I lost $200 almost instantly. I didn’t win a single hand; I got 21 twice, but so did the dealer. I suspect no one there including the dealer had ever before seen a wipeout quite so dramatic. The dealer seemed stunned, and a little upset, when I got up to go. But I still had the Rickles show to come, and I was a really big fan. (I saw every episode of CPO Sharkey, for example.)
The Rickles show was free with the room. It had always seemed to me that Rickles, like Lenny Bruce and Norman Lear, reduced the damage of hateful language by exposing the ridiculousness of it. But in between the comedy, Rickles wanted to prove to us that he was not a racist. So he would tell a racist joke, then spend a bunch of time explaining sincerely how not-racist he was, how full of love for all people. The nadir came when he brought his African-American employee out on stage – a gentleman who would once have been called a butler or man-servant – and made a big point of how that showed he couldn’t be racist, because he had a black friend. But the guy wasn’t exactly a friend. It was like a guy screaming that some of his best friends are black, or that he loves Louie Armstrong. I felt embarrassed for Rickles. It made him actually seem … racist. It was more disappointing than the money I lost at blackjack.
I used to have an autographed Rickles autobiography but when I lost my job in 2013 I sold it.