Hollywood lost another star this year with the death of television personality Don Knotts. Knotts passed away on Feb. 24 due to pulmonary and respiratory complications at the UCLA medical center in Los Angeles, Calif. Knotts was 81. Born Jan. 24, 1924, in Morgantown, W. Va., Knotts got his first taste of show business at an early age. He began his career as a ventriloquist in his hometown and later moved to New York City to pursue his career, but left after a few weeks. After World War II had engulfed America, he enlisted in the military at age 19 and was assigned to a special unit that entertained the troops. It was here that Knotts quit ventriloquism and instead focused his act on straight comedy.
His career took off and he was soon a stand-up regular at many comedy clubs and eventually broke into radio playing Windy Wales on the “Bobby Benson Show.” Destiny intervened and would help to create Knotts’ most memorable role. He returned to New York to work on the Broadway show “No Time for Sergeants,” which starred Andy Griffith. In 1960, Griffith and Knotts would team up again in one of the most memorable television shows in history.
It was on “The Andy Griffith Show” that Knotts received his greatest recognition. He had already developed a brilliant comedic character, the unnamed “nervous-man” on “The Tonight Show,” which Griffith and Knotts developed into an even deeper and broader character on “The Andy Griffith Show.” The character of Deputy Barney Fife solidified Knotts in legendary status. He was Griffith’s sidekick in a show about a small-town sheriff. During the show’s run, from 1960 to 1968, Knotts was nominated for five Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actor, winning every time.
After “The Andy Griffith Show” ended in 1968, Knotts moved on to another legendary role, playing would-be-swinger landlord Ralph Furley on “Three’s Company.” He played the role from 1979 to 1984.
Outside of television, Knotts enjoyed a prominent film career, which spanned from the 1960s until 2005. Some of his most memorable films include “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” (1964), “The Reluctant Astronaut” (1967), and “Pleasantville” (1998). All of Knotts’ films, for the most part, were G-rated family films, not box-office blockbusters. He always played the nervous guy who ended up the hero. His last film role was in 2005 playing mayor Turkey Lurkey in Walt Disney’s computer-animated film “Chicken Little.”
On the day of his death, Andy Griffith spoke to the Associated Press about the passing of his friend, saying, “Don was a small man.but everything else about him was large: his mind, his expressions.Don was special. There’s nobody else like him.” This is true and through a career in film, television, radio, and stage, Don Knotts crafted and created characters we will always remember. The world may have laughed at his goofy antics on “The Andy Griffith Show” and his anxious characters in film, but while they laughed at him, they also laughed with him. The world has lost a great talent and there will not likely be anyone else like him for years to come.