Who was Don Knotts?
Don Knotts was an American comedic actor in films and television, best known for his character Barney Fife on the television show ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ for which he received five Emmy Awards. He also had memorable roles in ‘The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,’ and ‘The Incredible Mr. Limpet.’ The son of a mentally disturbed farmer, Knotts overcame some terrible childhood experiences to emerge as a successful professional in the entertainment industry. He started performing in numerous church and school functions as a ventriloquist and comedian during his school years. After high school, he enlisted in the Army and served in the World War II. He then proceeded to earn a bachelor’s degree in education with a minor in speech from West Virginia University. He debuted in films with ‘No Time for Sergeants’ and got his major break on television with a soap opera ‘Search for Tomorrow’. Another one of his identifiable and popular roles was in the show ‘Three’s Company’ as Ralph Furley. Knotts was married three times and had a daughter and a son from his first marriage. During his later years, he suffered from intense hypochondria, cancer, and a degenerative eye disease called macular degeneration. Knotts died due to complications arising from pneumonia related to lung cancer.
Childhood & Early Life
Don Knotts was born on July 21, 1924 as Jesse Donald Knotts in Morgantown, West Virginia, U.S. His father, William Knotts was a farmer and his mother, Elsie Luzetta Knotts ran a boarding house in Morgantown. Don had three elder brothers.
His father was an alcoholic and suffered from schizophrenia. He sometimes terrorized little Don with a knife. Due to such incidents, Don became quite reclusive at a very young age. However, he loved to perform and took active part in school and church functions.
Knotts completed his graduation from Morgantown High School and was soon enlisted in the Army. He served in World War II following which he completed his bachelor’s degree in education in 1948 from West Virginia University with minor in speech.
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Don Knotts got his major break on television with ‘Search for Tomorrow’ which ran from 1953 to 1955. It was the only non-comedic role of his career.
He regularly appeared as himself in ‘The Steve Allen Show’ (1956-1960) and debuted in films with ‘No Time for Sergeants’ in 1958 as Cpl. John C. Brown. He also starred in ‘Wake Me When It’s Over’ (1960) and ‘The Last Time I Saw Archie’ (1961).
His commercial breakthrough came in 1960 with the sitcom ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ (1960-1968) where he played Barney Fife. The performance made him a household name and also earned him five Emmy Awards. Around this time he also signed a five-film deal with Universal Studios.
‘The Incredible Mr. Limpet’ was his first film in a leading role which released in 1964. ‘The Ghost and Mr. Chicken’ (1966), ‘The Reluctant Astronaut’ (1967) and ‘The Shakiest Gun in the West’ (1968) also gave him a lot of recognition in the film industry although these were low-budget movies.
Don Knotts also appeared in the films ‘The Love God?’ (1969) and ‘How to Frame a Figg’ (1971). It was ‘How to Frame a Figg’ with which his five-film deal with Universal Studios came to an end.
He continued to work steadily and paired up with Tim Conway and performed in ‘The Apple Dumpling Gang’ in 1975 and its sequel ‘The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again’ in 1979. There were several other Disney movies in which he appeared meanwhile such as ‘Gus’ (1976), ‘No Deposit, No Return’ (1976), ‘Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo’ (1977), and ‘Hot Lead and Cold Feet’ (1978).
He came back to television in 1979 with ‘Three’s Company’ as Ralph Furley which is considered his second most iconic role. He continued to be a part of the show until its end in 1984.
Knotts teamed up with his ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ co-stars in 1986 for the television movie special ‘Return to Mayberry’. Don appeared in thirteen episodes of ‘What a Country!’ in 1987. He had a recurring role in ‘Matlock’ from 1987 to 1992 with his Griffith team. He played a significant role in the movie ‘Pleasantville’ in 1998. He also appeared in the video game ‘Scooby-Doo! Night of 100 Frights.’
Knotts published in autobiography ‘Barney Fife and Other Characters I Have Known’ in 1999.
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Apart from being an actor, Don Knotts also worked as a voice artist in his later years. He teamed up with Tim Conway and gave his voice to ‘Hermie and Friends’ in 2003. He also gave voice for Mayor Turkey Lurkey in ‘Chicken Little’ (2005).
Don Knotts is best known for his role as Barney Fife in the television series ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ (1960 -1968) for which he received widespread recognition and multiple awards. His role in his debut movie ‘No Time for Sergeants’ in 1958 was also critically acclaimed.
‘Three’s Company’ in 1979 was his second most popular television show and he played the character of a wacky-but-lovable landlord, Ralph Furley in the show. He received various award nominations for his performance in the show.
Awards & Achievements
Don Knotts won five Emmy Awards for Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actor for his show ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ in 1961, 1962, 1963, 1966 and 1967.
He was placed at the second position in Golden Laurel in 1964 as Top Male New Face and received a Golden Laurel nomination under the category Male Comedy Performance in 1967 for ‘The Reluctant Astronaut’.
He was honored with a Star on the Walk of Fame in 2000. Knotts was nominated for TV Land Awards under the categories Nosiest Neighbor and Favorite Fashion Plate – Male in 2003 and 2004 respectively for his show ‘Three’s Company.’
Knotts won TV Land Award for Favorite Second Banana in 2003 and TV Land Legend Award in 2004. Both of these awards were for his performance in ‘The Andy Griffith Show’; the latter was shared with other members of the cast of the show.
He was again nominated for TV Land Award for Favorite Nosy Neighbor in 2005 for ‘Three’s Company’.
He was inducted into the On-line Film and Television TV Hall of Fame in 2007.
Personal Life & Legacy
Don Knotts married his college sweetheart, Kathryn Metz, in 1947 and had a son, Thomas Knotts and a daughter, actress Karen Knotts. His first marriage ended in 1964 with a divorce and he married his second wife, Loralee Czuchna in 1974. He divorced Loralee in 1983 and married Frances Yarborough in 2002.
Knotts suffered from severe hypochondria and also had a degenerative eye disease called macular degeneration. During his later years he also suffered from cancer.
He died at the age of 81 on February 24, 2006 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. The primary reason of death was the complications arising from pneumonia related to lung cancer.