When David Letterman asks Andy Griffith if he can remember the first time he ever saw Don Knotts perform, Griffith’s face lights up. It’s clear to see that even 20 years after Knotts had left The Andy Griffith Show, Andy still had a lot of love for his old pal.
The two stayed close for most of their lives after they met in 1955 during a Broadway production of “No Time For Sergeants.” The play was adapted into a TV movie three years later. In 1960, when The Andy Griffith Show pilot was picked up, Knotts just happened to be looking for work. And Griffith was desperately trying to fix his broken show and brought Knotts into the cast.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened to that show,” Griffith told Letterman to wild applause from the audience.
One of the reason’s the duo worked together so well on camera was their close bond off camera. Knotts’ dopey deputy Barney Fife was originally supposed to be a one-off character. He was only budgeted for a single episode, but the chemistry between Knotts and Griffith was so strong they made the job full time.
The comedy duo shared the timing of friends who have a thousand inside jokes. And that friendship bled into the scripts and onto the screen.
Actor Ron Howard who played Opie Taylor best described the duo’s off-screen friendship.
“Andy was the world’s greatest audience for Don,” Howard said. “Don had Andy literally in tears once a week. Having come from similar backgrounds, the two hit it off right from the jump. They were two Southern guys with similar backgrounds, stories, and childhoods, so they were drawn to each other instantly.”
Andy Griffith Recalls the Last Time He Saw Don Knotts
Don Knotts died in 2006. Andy Griffith was with him just a few hours before he passed. He opened up to the TODAY show about their final moments together.
“I told him, I said,” Then Andy pauses, and smiles. “His first name was Jess. 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, ya know, I saw his chest heave. And I said, ‘That’s a boy, just keep breathing,’ and his shoulder moved.”
Griffith believes Knotts, who was unconscious, heard him. Knotts died later that night.
Griffith said that The Andy Griffith Show was created, crewed, crafted, and curated by some of the best people working in television at the time. But at the end of the day, Griffith said, “everything we did came out of our friendship.