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A Tribute to Don Rickles, Charlie Murphy, and Michael Ballhaus

Rory Gallagher, Staff Writer

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As years go, 2017 has not started off as celebrity death-ridden as 2016, so it at least has that going for it. However, the past two weeks contained the passing of two men you might have heard of, and one man whose work you probably saw if you enjoy the work of Martin Scorsese.

 

The initial inspiration behind this article was the death of world-famous insult comedian, Don Rickles. Known today mainly for his role in the Toy Story series as Mr. Potato Head, Mr. Rickles originally strove to become a dramatic actor, but a lack of work drove him to doing sets at comedy clubs. After his improvised riffing on hecklers got more of a reaction than his actual jokes, Rickles discovered that he could use vicious putdowns as a source for comedy.

 

His big break came when mega-famous Frank Sinatra became a fan after seeing him at a Florida nightclub. After Florida, Rickles was part of the Rat Pack, a position which came with near-royalty status in 50’s Las Vegas. In 1958, he even got to be a serious actor in the submarine movie Run Silent, Run Deep. After getting a huge boost in celebrity thanks to his friendship with Sinatra, he then started appearing on The Late Show with Johnny Carson in 1965, which cemented his legacy as the insult comedian of his generation.


The man never stopped touring, even in 2013 when he needed multiple surgeries over a bad case of flesh-eating bacteria. He also became good friends with director John Landis, who directed him in a 2007 HBO documentary that won Rickles an Emmy, and Jerry Seinfeld, who was the MC for a huge comedy show dedicated to Rickles in 2014. Don Rickles was so funny that even his Wikipedia article can make you chuckle. When asked for a quote, mathematics and Leadership teacher Laurie Hoecherl stated that she “…was shocked to hear that he had passed on. He seemed like someone who would always be around.”

 

Charlie Murphy was in an awkward place around 2003. He had always been on the fringe of his brother Eddie’s shadow, but unlike Eddie, he had kept doing stand-up until he at least had some connections. One of those connections was Dave Chappelle, who gave Murphy a recurring segment on the wildly popular Chappelle’s Show known as “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories.” When someone makes a Chapelle’s Show joke, they usually reference Chappelle’s portrayal of Rick James as recalled by Charlie Murphy, which was confirmed by the actual Rick James to be totally true.

 

Riding off of this peak in the mid-2000’s, Murphy solidified himself in voice acting history by lending his dulcet tones to the recurring antagonist Ed Wuncler III on Adult Swim’s The Boondocks. The character was basically George W. Bush as a twenty-something gangsta rap wannabe. Along with Samuel Jackson, who played Wuncler’s Iraq War buddy, Gin Rummy, the duo were a part of classic episodes such as “Let’s Nab Oprah.” His career peak may not have been long, but Murphy made the most of it.
Michael Ballhaus was Martin Scorsese’s main cinematographer for Goodfellas, Gangs Of New York, and The Departed, along with most of the other non-gangster movies. The fact that Ballhaus was involved in the Goodfellas Copacabana scene, also known as the most famous one-take in film, and that he nailed Scorsese’s difficult request in only 8 tries guarantees him a spot on this memoriam. He also worked on Air Force One, and the underrated Bill Murray comedy What About Bob?.

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A Tribute to Don Rickles, Charlie Murphy, and Michael Ballhaus