Andy Griffith Reflected on Being Nervous About Fan Reaction to Don Knotts’ Leaving

by Allison Hambrick

Actor Andy Griffith once revealed that he was nervous about Don Knotts leaving The Andy Griffith Show. The two starred together for the black and white years of the series, before Knotts exited the show to pursue his movie career.

“When Don left after five years, I was very nervous,” Griffith said on Ralph Pearl’s Vegas. “There was a lady from TV Guide [who] came in and she said ‘what’re you gonna do when Don leaves?’ I said ‘I don’t know what we’re gonna do when Don leaves and I got up and left. She wrote it just that way. Best article was ever written on me. She said ‘he got up and left and didn’t even say he appreciated it.’”

Doing The Andy Griffith Show without Knotts was difficult for many reasons. One of the biggest is that Griffith and Knotts were genuinely friends. The actors met in 1955 on a show called No Time for Sergeants, where they became. Griffith had been a fan of Knotts’ radio show, and he remained a fan throughout their long, shared career.

“He was very much in control of himself,” said Griffith. “Don was an extraordinarily bright man. He knew life, he knew how to get around. He had a great admiration of women and he wound up with a good one.”

Andy Griffith on Working With Knotts Post-Andy Griffith Show

Additionally, there were many times later on that the duo reunited. Griffith even once said “I don’t think anybody works together quite like we do, and I’d like to try that again.”

Knotts revisited the role of Barney several times after he left the show, guest-starring in its later seasons as well as the spinoff Mayberry R.F.D., which did not star Griffith. Later on, the duo starred in the television film Return to Mayberry. The majority of the cast returned for the project, except for Aunt Bee actress Frances Bavier.

Griffith, of course, went on to find tremendous success on Matlock playing the title character. Knotts did, in fact, recur on the legal drama. Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t their only collaboration post-Mayberry. The two did several stage shows together, and their friendship remained so close that Griffith was at Knotts’s side on his deathbed.

“His first name was Jess,” recalled Griffith. “He hated that name but he told me it once so I couldn’t help but call him Jesse. I said, ‘Jess, breathe. You got to make this, you got to pull through. Breathe.’ And, you know, I saw his chest heave. And I said, ‘That’s a boy, just keep breathing,’ and his shoulder moved.”

According to Griffith,“everything [they] did came out of [their] friendship.” The two are iconic both on television and in real life. Their friendship is a shining example of being able to support and care for others even when life takes you in different directions.