“This is not going to be our usual show tonight, and I’m going to tell you right up front: I’m going to cry, which is kind of embarrassing but, well, I’m not good with this sort of thing,” Kimmel warned his audience at the top of his show. “We lost someone that I love very much today… Don Rickles passed away this morning, and he was 90 years old. I know it sounds crazy to say he was too young, but he was… he was youthful and funny and sharp and generous, and I was fortunate enough not only to have Don on this show as my guest, but also to become close to him and his wife Barbara.
“I grew up in Las Vegas, so even when I was a kid, Don Rickles was a big deal,” he continued. “You’d see him on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson making fun of Johnny, making fun of Frank Sinatra… People always wanted to hear Don tell Sinatra stories… but I told Don — this is honestly how I felt — the Sinatra stories are great, but if Sinatra was here, I’d be asking him for stories about you.”
After sharing a story about Rickles and Sinatra told to him by Bob Newhart, the waterworks truly began, as Kimmel told the audience about how Rickles agreed to be his guest at last minute after his Uncle Frank passed away, and how he helped both Kimmel and the entire Jimmy Kimmel Live staff heal in the wake of tragedy.
“They called him Mr. Warmth as a joke, but that’s what he was,” Kimmel said. “He would always ask about my parents, my kids… when my Uncle Frank passed away, I called him and asked him to be the guest on that show, which was a tough show, and he helped all of us through it. He gave me advice — good advice, not the advice people give you just to hear themselves giving you advice. He would always say ‘keep my name alive,’ which I thought was funny because, you know, ‘You’re Don Rickles. You keep my name alive!'”
Kimmel then shared a handful of personal note cards he received from Rickles over the years, including a note he got in the mail after hosting the Academy Awards. Later, after sending his love to Rickles’ closest friends and family (including “step-daughters” John Stamos and Bob Saget), Kimmel queued up a montage featuring unforgettable moments from Rickles’ 17 appearances on the show.
Watch Kimmel’s heartfelt tribute above, then scroll down to see how other late-night hosts paid their respects to the comedy icon.