Don Knotts continues to leave people laughing as Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show.” His legacy lives on after his death.
Knotts died from lung cancer on Feb. 24, 2006, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Don Knotts had been in poor health for a period of time prior to his death, yet kept doing bits of work here and there.
Born in Morgantown, West Va., Knotts received his big break thanks to comedian Steve Allen. Allen, who was the original host of NBC’s “Tonight” prior to its name change to “The Tonight Show,” had a variety show in 1956. On it, Allen had a number of actors and actresses who were regulars.
One of those happened to be Knotts, who would be featured in the “Man On The Street” vignettes as a nervous, twitchy interviewee. He stayed with Allen’s show until the 1959-60 season.
Don Knotts Works With Andy Griffith For First Time
The first time Knotts and Griffith worked together was in a film version of the Broadway play, “No Time For Sergeants.” Knotts plays a wound-up test administrator with a similar energy as Knotts’ character on Allen’s show. It ended up helping Don Knotts become a household name when Griffith added him to his new CBS situation comedy.
For his role as Fife, Knotts won five Emmy Awards during his run on “The Andy Griffith Show.” His comedic timing played against Griffith’s sometimes uptight Sheriff Andy Taylor character made for great TV.
He gives a little insight into how he viewed Fife’s character in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Mainly, I thought of Barney as a kid,” Knotts said. “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 played Fife for five seasons, then left to pursue a movie career with Universal Studios. He thought Griffith was going to end the show, but Griffith decided to keep going. Knotts found himself bound to the Universal contract, so he left “The Andy Griffith Show.”
At Universal, he starred in movies like “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,” “The Reluctant Astronaut,” and “The Love God?” None were major box-office successes, yet remain nostalgic favorites.
Knotts Returns to TV As Ralph Furley in ‘Three’s Company’
Knotts also did some movie work with fellow comic Tim Conway, starring in “The Apple Dumpling Gang” and “The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again” for Disney.
He didn’t have a regular TV character role until he joined ABC’s “Three’s Company” in 1979. He played landlord Ralph Furley, taking over spots left by actors Norman Fell and Audra Lindley as they went on to appear in the spinoff “The Ropers.” Don Knotts played the foil to lead star John Ritter and the comedic interactions were hilarious.
Knotts, though, still remained connected to Mayberry and the Griffith show. He didn’t seem to mind one bit as he rejoined Griffith, Ron Howard, George Lindsey, and Jim Nabors in 1986 for the TV movie “Return to Mayberry.”
In 2003, Don Knotts started having health issues with macular degeneration in his eyes. His health issues continued to cause him trouble, ultimately leading to this beloved actor’s death. Knotts was married three times and had two children.
Don Knotts may be gone, but his impact on people like Jim Carrey, Martin Short, and other actors and fans lives far beyond Mayberry.