“He was 90 years old. And I know it sounds crazy to say he was too young. But he was, because he was youthful and funny and sharp and generous,” Kimmel said.
The 12-minute opening monologue detailed the host’s relationship with Rickles, starting from his childhood growing up in Las Vegas, where Rickles often performed. Then he moved into his early years as a talk show host and meeting Rickles for the first time.
“The first time Don was on our show was almost four years after we started. We’d been trying to book him since the beginning — we asked him over and over again — and he didn’t know what this was,” Kimmel said. “But, finally, after we asked him 20 times, he gave up, and he did the show for my birthday in 2006. And it was so exciting. I felt like I was in some kind of talk show host fantasy camp.”
According to Kimmel, him and Rickles became close friends over the years. Rickles was a frequent guest on the show (having visited around 17 more times), and the two would go out to dinner after each appearance.
Of course, there was one time Kimmel couldn’t (because he had other dinner plans) — and he never heard the end of it after Rickles happened to walk into the same restaurant.
“He looks at me and says ‘I thought you couldn’t go to dinner!’ And he hammered me, and heckled me, and complained, ‘You’re having dinner with him instead of me!’ until I finally just got up and moved over to his table. “
Rickles was famous for his insults, and while this was his main draw on the stage, it also spilled over into his everyday life during encounters with friends and other celebrities.
“He made fun of everybody,” Kimmel continued. “He would come here and make fun of me, Guillermo, the band, the audience, the guy who put a microphone on him, he’s make fun of the vegetable platter in his dressing room. When he’d come to my house he’d yell about the stairs, as if I put them there specifically to inconvenience him.”
But despite the insults, Rickles was known for his warm heart. Kimmel said he called him Mr. Warmth, and that the insult comic would often write him letters and help him through tough times.
“He would always ask about my parents and my kids and really wanted to know how they were,” he said. “When my Uncle Frank passed away, I called him and asked him to be the guest on that show – which was a tough one. And he came and helped me through it. “
It’s a touching tribute, with Kimmel in tears throughout most of it. At the very end of the monologue, he showed a tribute video with some of Rickles’ most memorable appearances, which include some great stories about hanging out with Frank Sinatra.
Watch the full video above.