‘The Andy Griffith Show’: Don Knotts Revealed the Secret to Making Barney Fife So Memorable

by Matthew Wilson

“The Andy Griffith Show” may have been named after Andy Griffith. But one of the show’s most memorable actors was Don Knotts.

Knotts as Barney Fife entertained audiences with his antics regularly for five seasons on the show, with occasional guest appearances afterward. He was often the source of comedy, playing opposite Griffith’s Sheriff Andy Taylor. The duo’s partnership quickly became the heart of the show and the main draw for audiences. Knotts’ Fife often acted irrationally at times, sometimes bumbling himself into situations he didn’t know how to fix. He was often well-meaning but also clueless.

So what was Knotts’ inspiration behind the character? In a 2000 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Knotts said he approached the character as if he was a child.

“Mainly, I thought of Barney as a kid. You can always look into the faces of kids and see what they’re thinking if they’re happy or sad. That’s what I tried to do with Barney. It’s very identifiable,” Knotts told the outlet.

His approach definitely worked in spades, creating a character that remains memorable for decades after the show went off the air. Fife may have been dramatic at times, but he was also always loyal to Mayberry and his best friend.

Don Knotts Wasn’t Like His Character

But in real life, Knotts wasn’t like his sitcom character. At least, he wasn’t a ball of energy and nerves all tied together into one. The actor just created those characteristics because he thought audiences would find them funny. And they did.

His co-star, Ron Howard, remembered Knotts as a calm and creative genius. Howard played Opie on the show for eight seasons before having a long career himself. Howard said Knotts wasn’t like his “The Andy Griffith Show” character in the slightest bit.

“I mean he wasn’t — he wasn’t like his character at all,” Howard said in a separate interview. “Even as a kid, you know, I could see that he was a really great comic actor who knew how to create this character and knew how to be very funny but, you know, he wasn’t — he wasn’t Barney Fife. He was a very calm, very kind, very relaxed, very creative guy.”

But if Knotts and Fife shared one characteristic, it was their friendship with Andy Griffith and Sheriff Andy Taylor. In real life, Knotts and Griffith became the best of pals, a friendship that would ultimately last for the rest of their lives.