Day: April 6, 2017

Comic Don Rickles Dead at Age 90

Don Rickles, the master insult comic who created laughs with ridicule and sarcasm in a decades-long career that earned him the facetious nickname “Mr. Warmth,” died on Thursday at his Los Angeles home from kidney failure, his publicist said. He was 90.

Rickles, who said he developed his brand of mockery humor because he was no good at telling traditional jokes, had recently postponed some performances, including a show set for May in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that was pushed back to November just this week.

His death was confirmed by his spokesman, Paul Shefrin, who said Rickles is survived by his wife of 52 years, Barbara, as well as their daughter, Mindy Mann, and two grandchildren. He would have turned 91 on May 8.

The New York-born Rickles had an intense, often-ad libbed, rapid-fire delivery and a wide, impish grin. He delighted nightclub audiences, Hollywood royalty and politicians by hurling invective at them, all in good fun.

Encountering Frank Sinatra for the first time during a stand-up act in 1957, Rickles greeted the mercurial singer as Sinatra walked in with a retinue of tough guys by saying, “Make yourself at home, Frank – hit somebody.”

Luckily for Rickles, the line amused Sinatra, who became one of his biggest boosters and took to calling the short, bald Rickles “Bullethead.”

Performing decades later at the second inaugural gala of U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1985, Rickles did not hesitate to zing the commander-in-chief, asking, “Is this too fast for you, Ronnie?”

But the most frequent targets of the “Merchant of Venom” were the fans who packed his performances for a chance to be belittled as a “dummy,” a “hockey puck” or worse. Celebrities often showed up just for the honor of being mocked by Rickles, and no minority or ethnic group was immune to a Rickles tongue-lashing.

“He was called ‘The Merchant of Venom’ but in truth, he was one of the kindest, caring and most sensitive human beings we have ever known,” actor-comedian Bob Newhart and his wife, Ginnie, said in a statement.

Comic actor Jim Carrey tweeted: “Don once begged me for a couple of bucks, then told me to twist myself into a pretzel.

Ego slayer! Comic Everest!” Oscar winner Tom Hanks also tweeted a tribute to his “Toy Story” co-star, saying, “A God died today. Don Rickles, we did not want to ever lose you. Never.”

Rickles also mocked himself and shied away from describing himself as an “insult comic,” insisting that his humor was not intended to be mean-spirited but was built on making wild exaggerations for the sake of laughs.

Much of Rickles’ material played on racial and ethnic stereotypes that did not always keep up with cultural evolution.

He came under fire in 2012 for a joke that characterized President Barack Obama as a janitor. His spokesman defended the line as just “a joke, as were the other comments Don made that night.”

“Anyone who knows him knows he’s not a racist,” the spokesman told Politico then.

Heckling the Hecklers

Rickles, a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, proved especially adept in early nightclub engagements at handling hecklers, which led him to make poking fun at audience members a major part of his act.

In an interview with Reuters to promote his 2007 memoir “Rickles’ Book,” he said his flair for impromptu insults grew out of his shortcomings as a conventional comic.

“I just can’t tell jokes,” he said. “As a young man I had a personality that I could rib somebody and get away with it.”

Rickles, who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, also built a resume as an actor, making his film debut as a junior officer alongside Clark Cable and Burt Lancaster in the 1958 submarine drama “Run Silent, Run Deep.”

He went on to appear in a series of 1960s “beach party” movies with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon and in 1970 played Army hustler Sergeant Crapgame in the wartime caper “Kelly’s Heroes,” with Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas and Donald Sutherland.

He endeared himself to an entirely new generation by providing the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the computer-animated “Toy Story” movie and its two sequels in the 1990s. In 1995 he had a dramatic role in Martin Scorsese’s Las Vegas crime film “Casino.”

But Rickles’ biggest exposure came on television, both as a frequent sitcom guest star and late-night and variety show regular, especially on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and “The Dean Martin Show.”

On Carson, Rickles was typically introduced by Spanish matador music, signifying that someone was about to be gored.

He took a long break from live shows and a Los Angeles performance in January 2015 was his first in 17 years.

Several Rickles TV series were short-lived, the most popular of which was the NBC comedy “C.P.O. Sharkey,” in which he starred as a U.S. Navy chief petty officer in charge of new recruits. The series lasted just two seasons.

A TV documentary, “Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project,” directed by John Landis, aired on HBO in 2007.

Six Facts About Don Rickles

* Rickles was not always an insult-slinging comedian. He graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, where his classmates included Jason Robards, Grace Kelly and Anne Bancroft. He had an early undistinguished stage career before gravitating toward comedy work, starting out in strip joints and working his way up to nightclubs, casinos, records, television and movies.

* Rickles did not think of himself as an “insult comic.” He said his act was all in fun and that his barbs were exaggerations delivered with good humor. “I’m the guy that makes fun of the boss at the Christmas party on Friday night and Monday still has his job,” he once said.

* Rickles inspired lots of nicknames. Singer Frank Sinatra called the short, bald comedian “Bullethead” while late-night television host Johnny Carson gave him the facetious title “Mr. Warmth” and Milton Berle dubbed him “The Merchant of Venom.”

* One of Rickles’ most notorious put-downs was to call someone a “hockey puck” but he once told an interviewer he was unsure how he came up with the barb.

* A lifelong Democrat, Rickles performed as part of Ronald Reagan’s second presidential inauguration. He joked that he took the job because he wanted to hang out with Sinatra.

* Rickles was a devoted son but in his act referred to his mother, Etta Rickles, as “the Jewish Patton.”


Trans-Siberian Orchestra Founder Paul O’Neill Dies at 61

Paul O’Neill, who founded the progressive metal band Trans-Siberian Orchestra that was known for its spectacular holiday concerts filled with theatrics, lasers and pyrotechnics, has died. He was 61.


University of South Florida police spokeswoman Renna Reddick said O’Neill was found dead in his room by hotel staff at a Tampa Embassy Suites late Wednesday afternoon. She says there were no obvious signs of foul play, and a medical examiner is working to determine an official cause.


The band said in a statement that O’Neill died from a “chronic illness.” The band calls his death “a profound and indescribable loss for us all.”


O’Neill was a rock producer and manager who began putting together Trans-Siberian Orchestra in 1996, blending heavy metal with classical music and creating a unique brand of rock theater. He tapped three members of the Tarpon Springs, Florida, band Savatage to be part of TSO and intended for it to be a “supergroup,” similar to popular bands like ELO, Pink Floyd and Yes.


“The best description of a TSO show I ever saw came from a reporter who said the only way to describe TSO is ‘The Who meets Phantom of the Opera with Pink Floyd’s light show,”’ O’Neill told the Tampa Bay Times in an email interview in 2012. “I would take any one of those alone as a compliment.”


The band is best known for its hard rock takes on Christmas staples like “Carol of the Bells,” but also more experimental, arena-rock songs such as “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24),” which described a lone cello player playing a forgotten holiday song in war-torn Sarajevo. That song was on the band’s 1996 album, “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” which went triple platinum.


Fans especially loved the band’s Christmas tours, which were heavy on guitar solos and heavier on special effects — similar to a Broadway Christmas pageant with a heavy metal soundtrack. One magazine once wrote that “TSO has enough pyro to BBQ an entire school of blue whales” during a show.


“My personal theory is it was being in the right place at the right time. It was easier for us to jump the generation gap between all the people before us. There’s something magical about watching a 15-year-old kid get into an Al Pitrelli guitar solo and his father jamming out there with him. That’s [proof] enough time has gone by that everybody has rock in common now, which simply didn’t exist when it was born in the ’60s,” O’Neill told Billboard.


But O’Neill, with his signature flowing locks, sunglasses and leather jackets, was remembered by legions of fans on social media Thursday for something else: his deep generosity.


Fans recalled how O’Neill would often approach them before concerts and hand them a silver dollar from the year they were born (he kept a case of them while touring), or sometimes hand out jean jackets. And others recall him tipping waitresses thousands of dollars for a post-show meal, buying drum sets for young fans and on numerous occasions, would not let security guards kick fans out until everyone received an autograph.


O’Neill is survived by his wife and daughter.


Britney Spears Show Causes Israeli Election Change

Pop star Britney Spears may not be topping the charts these days, but she’s still big enough to influence elections in another country.

Because of a July 3 Spears concert in Tel Aviv, a first for the singer, Israel’s Labor Party decided to push back primary voting by a day.

“We delayed the vote one day, to July 4. We couldn’t hire enough security for the election because of the Britney Spears concert on July 3. There would also be a lot of traffic and roadblocks that would make it hard for the vote to go ahead,” Labor Party spokesman Liron Zach said, according to CNN.

The primary was set to decide the leader of the party and future challenger for the prime minister spot.

“We aren’t concerned about voters favoring Spears over the party. The two main concerns are security and traffic,” Zach said.

Spears’ stop in Israel is part of a world tour, her first since 2011.


Iranian-American Nilou Motamed Highlights Her Culture in Food & Wine Magazine

Iranian-American Nilou Motamed began her second year as editor-in-chief of Food & Wine, an American lifestyle magazine dedicated to covering new trends in food, drink, travel, design and entertaining. In an interview with VOA Persian journalist Saman Arbabi in New York, the 45-year-old Motamed explains how her Iranian roots inspired her not only to pursue success in the competitive U.S. media industry, but also to highlight Iranian culture through her magazine.


Study: Tech Firms Must Go Beyond Congo’s ‘Conflict Minerals’ to Clean Supply Chain

Abuses linked to mining in countries such as Myanmar and Colombia are being overlooked by technology companies focused only on eliminating “conflict minerals” from war-torn parts of Africa in their supply chains, researchers said on Thursday.

In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), competition for mineral resources has fueled two decades of conflict in its eastern provinces, including a 1998-2003 war that killed millions, mostly from hunger and disease.

Congo’s supply of tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold – metals used in smartphones, batteries and laptops – has been under scrutiny since 2010, when U.S. laws required U.S.-listed firms to ensure supply chains were free from “conflict minerals.”

Yet the same minerals are being quarried in areas controlled by armed groups — sometimes using child labor — in countries such as Myanmar, Bolivia and Rwanda, according to research published by Verisk Maplecroft on Thursday.

The problem for tech companies was being able to trace the metals used in their products to the source mine or smelter, the risk consultancy group said in a report.

“The problem is because this is so far down the supply chain, it’s difficult for technology companies to know if those minerals they’re using are coming from irresponsibly managed operations,” said Stefan Sabo-Walsh of Verisk Maplecroft.

Sabo-Walsh told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that in the most extreme cases the minerals are excavated using forced labor in order to buy weapons and fund violence.

A convoluted process

After minerals are mined, they are sold to a middleman and usually taken to the country’s capital, where the raw metal is extracted and blended with other metals, the report said.

The blend is exported to a country such as China and then transformed for use in tech products.

The complicated process “further muddies supply chain transparency efforts” for companies that strive to only use safe and ethical extraction, Verisk Maplecroft said.

Tin, which is used in tablet computers and smartphones, was ranked as having the highest risk for labor rights violations at illegal mines.

Bolivia, Myanmar and Indonesia, some of the largest tin-producing countries, pose an “extreme risk” for child labor at tin mines, the research showed.

Some smaller mines are not run by armed groups but still hurt the environment and local communities and are difficult to police, Sabo-Walsh said.

At illegal mines, waste water runoff often makes its way into local water sources, polluting the supply, he said.

“Organizations need to be aware of the bigger picture when sourcing minerals from different countries – otherwise they risk a consumer backlash or regulatory penalties from the raft of emerging supply chain legislation,” he said in a statement.