NEW YORK — Barbara Rickles, the widow of Don Rickles and a fictionalized target of his comic insults, died on what would have been their 56th wedding anniversary.
Her death was confirmed by spokesman Paul Shefrin, who said she died Sunday at 84 at her home in Los Angeles. The cause was non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
“They were incredibly devoted to each other. She was the perfect woman for Don and vice-versa,” Shefrin wrote on his Facebook page. In an email Monday to The Associated Press, he wrote that she knew his “take my wife” jokes “were part of the act.”
A close friend, Bob Saget, tweeted: “So sad to lose the beautiful, funny, wonderful Barbara Rickles.”
A native of Philadlephia, Barbara Sklar met her future husband through his film agent, for whom she worked briefly. The Rickles married on March 14, 1965, and had two children — the actor-comedian Mindy Rickles and screenwriter-producer Larry Rickles, who died in 2011. By many accounts, the Rickles had one of the happiest marriages in show business, right up to his death in 2017, and they socialized often with another enduring Hollywood couple, Bob and Ginny Newhart.
Barbara Rickles would help produce the Emmy-winning documentary “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project,” which came out in 2007, and the 2020 release “Don Rickles Live In Concert.” Don Rickles, in serious moments, would note that he was nearly 40 on his wedding day and had struggled for years to find someone.
“I advise any young person that gets married, really, work at it. If you work at it, it’s delightful,” he said in 1986, during one of his many appearances on the “Tonight” show with Johnny Carson, whom he would tease endlessly about his multiple marriages.
When in his better known “Mr. Warmth” persona, Rickles told a different story. For decades, he cracked jokes about his wife’s looks, about their sex life, about her alleged love of jewelry. When he appeared with Frank Sinatra on the “Tonight” show in 1976, he begged the singer to set him up with someone.
“I need a girl so bad,” Rickles said in mock despair. “I love my wife, but she’s ill.”
Near the end of his life, he was filmed reminiscing with Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, with whom he worked in the 1995 film “Casino.” The conversation turned to marriage.
“You’re married again, right? You’re happy?” Rickles said to Scorsese.
“Yeah, been married 20 years,” Scorsese said.
“I’m married to Barbara — which is a mistake,” Rickles responded. “Nah, that’s a joke. She’ll hear it and say, ‘That’s not funny.’”