‘The Andy Griffith Show’: Why a Statue of Barney Fife in the Real ‘Mayberry’ Was Destroyed

by Matthew Wilson
Photo credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

When Don Knotts died in 2006, the town that inspired Mayberry decided to build a statue based on his “The Andy Griffith Show” character Barney Fife. Unfortunately, the town had to destroy the statue before it was complete.

The reason was a rights’ issue regarding the Fife character.

Knotts died on February 24, 2006, from pneumonia-related to lung cancer. Mount Airy, North Carolina, the hometown of Andy Griffith, wanted to honor Knotts and his contribution to television. What better place for the statue? The town acted as the inspiration for Mayberry when Griffith decided to make the show.

Tom Hellebrand commissioned the statue, and its construction was underway. But Paramount, who owned the rights to “The Andy Griffith Show,” revoked the town’s commission. They refused to allow the town to construct a statue in Knotts’ and Fife’s likeness because they owned the rights to the character. As a result, the town was forced to take down Fife’s statue before it was even completed.

A New Statue For Barney Fife

The story has a somewhat happy ending. Knotts finally got the recognition that he deserved in 2016. Morgantown, West Virginia commissioned a statue after Knotts’ likeness. Morgantown is Knotts’ hometown where he was born and raised. Knotts first entertained the idea of becoming a comedian while living in Morgantown. The future actor would put on comedy routines for local school and church events. His comedy partner was often a ventriloquist dummy that Knotts owned.

Locals are proud to have had a celebrity like Knotts come from the town.

“Public art makes a huge difference in the community because it connects us with our past and it connects us with our future, I believe, because the young people in the community see the statues and have questions about them,” sculptor Jamie Lester told Metro News. “It’s a prop that is a symbol for the script for ‘The Ghost and Mr. Chicken’ which he did around the same time.  So, it’s a nod to his film work in his left hand and a nod to his TV work with ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ with the prop for the Barney Fife had in his right hand.”

The town threw a big unveiling ceremony in 2016. Now, visitors can see Knotts’ statue and all its glory. The homage to the actor still stands in Morgantown, as a testament to the actor and his career.