Actor Don Knotts
dies at 81
Griffith: 'Don was special. There's nobody like
Monday, February 27, 2006; Posted: 3:35 a.m. EST
Don Knotts may be best remembered as the
bumbling Deputy Barney Fife.
LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Don Knotts, who
kept generations of TV audiences laughing as
bumbling Deputy Barney Fife on "The Andy
Griffith Show" and would-be swinger landlord
Ralph Furley on "Three's Company," has died. He
Knotts died Friday night of pulmonary and
respiratory complications at the University of
California, Los Angeles Medical Center, said
Sherwin Bash, his friend and manager.
|Don Knotts may
be best remembered as the bumbling Deputy Barney
Griffith, who had visited
Knotts in the hospital before his death, said his
longtime friend had a brilliant comedic mind and wrote
some of the show's best scenes.
"Don was a small man ... but everything else about him
was large: his mind, his expressions," Griffith told The
Associated Press on Saturday. "Don was special. There's
nobody like him.
"I loved him very much," Griffith added. "We had a long
and wonderful life together."
Unspecified health problems had forced Knotts to cancel
an appearance in his native Morgantown in August.
The West Virginia-born actor's half-century career
included seven TV series and more than 25 films, but it
was the Griffith show that brought him TV immortality
and five Emmys. (Watch scenes from Knotts' long career
The show ran from 1960-68, and was in the top 10 of the
Nielsen ratings each season, including a No. 1 ranking
its final year. It is one of only three series in TV
history to bow out at the top: The others are "I Love
Lucy" and "Seinfeld." The 249 episodes have appeared
frequently in reruns and have spawned a large, active
network of fan clubs.
As the bug-eyed deputy to Griffith, Knotts carried in
his shirt pocket the one bullet he was allowed after
shooting himself in the foot. The constant fumbling, a
recurring sight gag, was typical of his self-deprecating
Knotts, whose shy, soft-spoken manner was unlike his
high-strung characters, once said he was most proud of
the Fife character and doesn't mind being remembered
His favorite episodes, he said, were "The Pickle Story,"
where Aunt Bee makes pickles no one can eat, and "Barney
and the Choir," where no one can stop him from singing.
"I can't sing. It makes me sad that I can't sing or
dance well enough to be in a musical, but I'm just not
talented in that way," he lamented. "It's one of my
Knotts appeared on several other television shows. In
1979, he joined the cast of "Three's Company," also
starring John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt.
Early in his TV career, he was one of the original cast
members of "The Steve Allen Show," the comedy-variety
show that ran from 1956-61. He was one of a group of
memorable comics backing Allen that included Louis Nye,
Tom Poston and Bill "Jose Jimenez" Dana.
Knotts' G-rated films were family fun, not box-office
blockbusters. In most, he ends up the hero and gets the
girl -- a girl who can see through his nervousness to
the heart of gold.
In the part-animated 1964 film "The Incredible Mr.
Limpet," Knotts played a meek clerk who turns into a
fish after he is rejected by the Navy.
When it was announced in 1998 that Jim Carrey would star
in a "Limpet" remake, Knotts responded: "I'm just
flattered that someone of Carrey's caliber is remaking
something I did. Now, if someone else did Barney Fife,
THAT would be different."
In the 1967 film "The Reluctant Astronaut," co-starring
Leslie Nielsen, Knotts' father enrolls his wimpy son --
operator of a Kiddieland rocket ride -- in NASA's space
program. Knotts poses as a famous astronaut to the joy
of his parents and hometown but is eventually exposed
for what he really is, a janitor so terrified of heights
he refuses to ride an airplane.
In the 1969 film "The Love God?," he was a geeky
bird-watcher who is duped into becoming publisher of a
naughty men's magazine and then becomes a national sex
symbol. Eventually, he comes to his senses, leaves the
big city and marries the sweet girl next door.
He was among an army of comedians from Buster Keaton to
Jonathan Winters to liven up the 1963 megacomedy "It's A
Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." Other films include "The
Ghost and Mr. Chicken" (1966); "The Shakiest Gun in the
West" (1968); and a few Disney films such as "The Apple
Dumpling Gang" (1974); "Gus" (1976); and "Herbie Goes to
Monte Carlo" (1977).
In 1998, he had a key role in the back-to-the-past movie
"Pleasantville," playing a folksy television repairman
whose supercharged remote control sends a teen boy and
his sister into a TV sitcom past.
Knotts began his show biz career even before he
graduated from high school, performing as a
ventriloquist at local clubs and churches. He majored in
speech at West Virginia University, then took off for
the big city.
"I went to New York cold. On a $100 bill. Bummed a
ride," he recalled in a visit to his hometown of
Morgantown, where city officials renamed a street for
him in 1998.
Within six months, Knotts had taken a job on a radio
Western called "Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders,"
playing a wisecracking, know-it-all handyman. He stayed
with it for five years, then came his series TV debut on
"The Steve Allen Show."
He married Kay Metz in 1948, the year he graduated from
college. The couple had two children before divorcing in
1969. Knotts later married, then divorced Lara Lee
In recent years, he said he had no plans to retire,
traveling with theater productions and appearing in
print and TV ads for Kodiak pressure treated wood.
The world laughed at Knotts, but it also laughed with
He treasured his comedic roles and could point to only
one role that wasn't funny, a brief stint on the daytime
drama "Search for Tomorrow."
"That's the only serious thing I've done. I don't miss
that," Knotts said.
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