Don Knotts is best known for his iconic performances as deputy sheriff Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show and as the landlord “Ralph Furley” in the television series Three’s Company from the late 1970s.
The late comedic star gave us all a lot of chuckles throughout the years, making him one of the greats and a genuine gift of humor to remember. He’s one of the funniest actors I’ve ever seen, and his shocked expression still makes me laugh.
Don rose to fame in the US after his break with The Andy Griffith Show, making him one of the most recognizable actors there. But he had always been guarded about his private life. Many of his secrets weren’t made public until after his terrible death in 2006…
Don Knotts was born in Morgantown, West Virginia, in 1924, and lived in relative obscurity as a child. When his mother gave birth to Don, she was already 40 years old, his father was a farmer.
He had a difficult start to life. Mental illness caused Don’s father to have a nervous breakdown just before Don was born. Additionally, he was a violent person who allegedly once chased his son with a knife.
Naturally, these horrific experiences had an impact on young Don, who grew rather reclusive and was constantly vigilant for dangers from without. Even though people saw Don as someone entirely different when he was acting on stage, those personality qualities remained with him throughout his life.
Don had four brothers as well, but regrettably, two of them passed away quite early. Earl, his oldest sibling, died when he was only 13 years old. Prior to the widespread use of antibiotics, pneumonia was a deadly illness that frequently claimed the lives of its victims during the time Earl experienced it. William, another of Don’s brothers, died at the age of 31.
Don was brought up by his mother in a boarding house that the family owned and ran. Despite all the trauma of his upbringing, he discovered a special talent for making others laugh. Even as a little child, he was able to make everyone grin. But it would take a while for him to go to Hollywood and spread his genius to the general public.
Don began his career as a regular, diligent worker, plucking chickens. However, Don was already engaged in ventriloquism before he entered high school and was frequently appearing at festivals and churches.
Don eventually made the trip to New York in an attempt to establish himself as a successful comedian, but it was a complete failure. Dejected, he made his way back to West Virginia and joined the American Army during World War II.
Soon after, he utilized his enlistment to advance his objectives, traveling and entertaining the troops in a production of Stars and Gripes with his doll Danny “Hooch” Matador.
He served in the western Pacific Islands until 1946 and was awarded several medals for his efforts. Don never had a weapon in his hand and was never involved in combat, but he was vital in making the soldiers’ daily lives easier and providing them with laughter during a difficult period.
Don relocated to New York after leaving his home country, where his career would eventually soar. Don was able to establish himself in the entertainment sector thanks to his connections in the Special Service Secret Branch. In the soap series Search For Tomorrow, where he appeared from 1953 to 1955, he received his big break.
Later, Don admitted, “It was the only significant role I ever played professionally.”
Don probably had no idea how his life would change when he was cast as Deputy Barney Fire on The Andy Griffith Show. Don enjoyed tremendous success in his role as the edgy, tense deputy.
The original plan was for Andy Griffith to play the straight man and Don to play Andy’s humorous foil. But as events developed, they both saw that switching positions was the wisest course of action.
According to Andy, “by the second episode, I knew that Don should be funny, and I should play straight,” as quoted in the book Mayberry Memories: The Andy Griffith Show Photo Album.
Despite the great chemistry Don and Andy shared, Don departed the famous series in 1965 because he believed there would be no more episodes.
Don entered into a contract with Universal Studios and produced a number of movies for the business. Don made a comeback to television in 1979, appearing in Three’s Company as Landlord Ralph Furley, his second most well-known role.
Don and Andy Griffith starred in the television movie Return to Mayberry in the 1980s, when Don reprised his role as the adored deputy Barney Fires.
Don was busy in the 2000s, but by that time, voice acting comprised most of what he did. He performed a variety of roles, including Scooby-Doo in a video game. He was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2000.
The renowned actor struggled with lung cancer and all of its side effects in the closing years of his life. He was interred at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles after passing away at the age of 81 in a hospital there.
Karen, Don’s daughter, shared information from her father’s deathbed a few years ago. When Karen went to see him, she couldn’t help but chuckle at her father’s incessant jokes.
He was actually about to pass away, but he said or did something that made my stepmother and I laugh so hard that I had to leave. I had the idea, ‘I don’t want to be there in front of this man, my dearly cherished father, who is dying, and smiling,'” Karen told Closer Weekly.
To laugh on your father’s deathbed is obviously a massive no-no under normal circumstances, but the daughter once again went into when she did the “forbidden” in a recent interview with Fox News.
He wasn’t trying to amuse everyone; he was just naturally humorous. He would also occasionally make jokes when he wasn’t intending to. So, that is what took place. We were sitting next to him because we were aware that his illness was almost over. It was simply such a gloomy atmosphere. Then all of a sudden, he just started acting in a way that was so hilarious that it made us laugh out loud. And he would do just that—surprise you with something to say or do in the middle of silence to make you laugh. That came easily to him,” Karen added before adding:
“I just couldn’t control myself. I had to leave that room quickly. He could be sensitive, so I didn’t want him to think I was laughing at him. But I simply thought, “Oh my God, I have to leave right away.” I later discussed it with [director] Howard Storm. He then remarked, “You ought to have remained there and laughed! Comedy writers live for that. But at the time, I didn’t want to offend my father. It was a difficult decision.
Karen claims that even though he knew he was going to die, her father never lost his sense of humor. She regrets one thing, though:
She added that when she told director Howard Storm about the incident, he advised her to remain and laugh aloud. “That is what makes comedians tick! He was correct; I should have simply stood there and laughed uncontrollably.
Don had a son and a daughter from his three previous marriages. His daughter Karen has carried on her father’s acting career by doing the same. Don apparently didn’t want his daughter to go in the entertainment business, but he was powerless to block Karen’s talent.
We didn’t see him very often because he worked ten to twelve hours a day, according to Karen. And he was always cooped up in his room when he was at home, working on his lines and other such things. He confided in my mother whatever he was feeling about working on the program at the time because we were still very young.
I recall observing and listening to him practice. I was requested to run lines by him, she remembered.
When Karen published her memoirs, many details of her father’s life that were previously unknown but might have been conjectured upon were made public.
Above all, Don’s difficult upbringing had a lasting impact on him.
Karen said, “My dad was really depressed by all these issues.
Don battled hypochondria and macular degeneration all of his life. Don was a co-star on The Andy Griffith Show with Betty Lynn, who knew him personally and characterized him as “a very quiet man. Sweetly said. There’s no one like Barney Fife.
Don sought therapy to help him get over his problems.
He displayed a wide range of moods. He struggled with depression a lot, and I helped him—or at least I believed I did—because I could see how his thoughts were caught in an endless cycle that would only serve to worsen his condition. I would attempt to overcome that and, like Pollyanna, bring out the advantages,” Karen remarked.
In many various ways, Don Knotts’ legacy continues to exist. For instance, his hometown of Morgantown has a statue honoring him.
It’s a prop that serves as a representation of the script he wrote around the same time for The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. As a result, the left hand is a tribute to his film work, and the right hand is holding a prop for Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith Show, the artist Jamie Lester explains.
The “Don Knotts Boulevard” in Morgantown was named in honor of the five-time Emmy Award-winning actor.
“Don was unique. Nobody else is like him. I had a great fondness for him. We shared a long and lovely life together. I clutched his hand and told him I loved him. When Don passed away in 2006, Andy Griffith told WFMY, “I think he heard my voice because his chest heaved numerous times.
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