Comedic actor Don Knotts took on many roles throughout his long career, but one of the most iconic roles he played was that of Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife on the 1960s sitcom, “The Andy Griffith Show.” Sadly, Knotts passed away on February 24, 2006.
A few years after he left the world, his family decided to share some interesting facts about the many things that made Knotts a true comedy legend, and one story that his daughter Karen told about the comedic talent left his fans stunned at her honesty. Even in his final moments, Knotts was a true entertainer.
Karen Knotts Loved Her Father
Looking back on the moment that her father passed away in 2006, Karen Knotts recalled a detail that stuck out in her memory. While her father was on his death bed, Karen was incredibly sad, but she couldn't help but laugh out loud during the days leading up to her father's death. But what could have caused this emotional reaction in her?
He Was Born to Entertain
Karen Knotts remembers laughing a lot during the days leading up to Don's death because even in his weakened state, he was still able to crack jokes and make everyone around him crack up in an instant. Karen recalled, "He had this funniness that was just completely, insanely natural. When he was dying, he was making us laugh in hysterics." But Knotts' life wasn't always filled with humor.
His Success Was Well Deserved
Knotts endured a lot of emotional stress from his father and older brother, who were both alcoholics, while he was growing up. Karen Knotts remembers that it wasn't until Don's father passed away when he was 13 years old that Don truly began to come out of his shell without fear. And it was then that he started to hone his craft for comedy and begin to share his gift with the world.
His Co-Stars Never Left His Side
In Knotts' final moments, his wife and children were in the room, but his longtime co-star in Mayberry also came to say his goodbyes. And he recalled the fact that while most people knew Knotts by the name "Don," Andy Griffith preferred to call him by his first name Jesse, even though Knotts disliked the name. And it wasn't just his incredible career that made his friends stick by his side, but Knotts' devotion to creating joy and laughter for everyone in his life, which he had done for decades...
He Was an Emmy Award Winner
Don Knotts did an impeccable job as Deputy Sheriff Barney Fire on “The Andy Griffith Show.” Over the course of the series, many of the actors on the show went on to win a few awards. Knotts himself earned five Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Comedy. But he wasn’t always an actor.
He Was in the Army, Too
It's clear to most fans that Knotts was born to be an actor, but when he was only 19 years old, Knotts enlisted in the United States Army after his freshman year. The actor served three years and spent most of the time keeping the troops entertained as part of a G.I. comedy show called “Stars and Gripes.” The group ended up touring a portion of the western Pacific Islands, too.
He Had a Rank of Technician Grade 5
Knots’ military service number was 35 756 363. He served in the military from June 21, 1943, until January 6, 1946, before being discharged with a rank of Technician Grade 5. But this wasn’t his only achievement, of course!
He Was a College Graduate
Knotts attended West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia. To this day, the university has a reputation of providing a quality and affordable education. Before he became a household name in Hollywood, Knotts earned a Bachelor’s degree in Education.
He Was Part of a Fraternity
While he was at West Virginia University, Knotts was part of the original chapter of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity way back in 1946. He was among the few fraternity brothers who had been honored with several military awards.
Knotts Was a Veteran
The World War II veteran received several awards for his contributions, including the World War II Victory Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, Marksman Badge and the Honorable Service Lapel Pin.
He Starred in "The Last Time I Saw Archie"
After Knotts served as a hero in uniform, he ended up playing a soldier in the 1961 comedy “The Last Time I Saw Archie.” The movie takes place during the final days of World War II and it was well received by critics.
West Virginia Was His Hometown
The actor was born in Morgantown, West Virginia, which is by all standards a great place to raise a family. But he came into the world after his other siblings were all grown up, so his father reportedly had a nervous breakdown when he realized his wife was pregnant with Knotts.
He Started a Family of His Own
Knotts decided to start his own family after he married Kathryn Metz in 1947. The couple had two kids together— a son named Thomas and a daughter named Karen, who grew up and became an actress. Unfortunately, Knotts and Metz split up in 1966. But his marriage wasn’t the only challenge he'd have to face in life.
Knotts Wanted to be a Ventriloquist
After graduating from college, Knotts pursued a career as a professional ventriloquist. He even had his own doll named Danny and together they became Don and Danny. When he tried to pursue an acting career, however, it didn’t take off in the way that he expected.
He Used to Pluck Chickens for a Living
When Knotts was told he would never succeed as an actor, he accepted a job at the local market plucking chickens. Fortunately for his fans, the acting bug never left him and after multiple failed attempts in other venues, eventually became one of the most memorable characters on television.
Knotts Had a Signature Expression
Before long, Knotts landed several comedic roles where he played different guys who were really nervous or just socially awkward. As a result, he developed a wide-eyed stare which became his trademark look when his characters were shocked. He also used a high-pitch voice to express alarm and frustration.
He Starred in "It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"
It didn't take long for Hollywood to notice the actor's natural born comedic abilities. Soon enough, he found himself starring in films like 1963’s “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." The film followed a group of people as they made their way across the countryside trying to find treasure.
He Was in "The Incredible Mr. Limpet"
In 1964, Knotts starred as a bookkeeper named Henry Limpet who was initially rejected by the U.S. Navy before of his poor eyesight. But he later became a talking fish to help the Navy find and destroy enemy submarines in the animated comedy “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.”
He Was on "Hollywood Squares"
“Hollywood Squares” was a reality game show and Knotts was invited to participate as a celebrity inside one of the squares on four separate occasions. But unfortunately, his love life was a game he couldn’t beat, not even the second time around.
Knotts found love again with Loralee Czuchna. Eventually the couple married in 1974, but they divorced in 1989. And according to rumors, Knotts suffered from depression, which is what reportedly forced the couple to break up. But while he struck out in yet another marriage, his career wasn’t too bad.
"The Ghost and Mr. Chicken"
Knotts played Luther Heggs, a newspaper typesetter in the 1966 film “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken." In the movie, Heggs spent an entire night inside a haunted house in the fictitious Kansas town of Rachel.
Knotts’ Final Appearance
One of Knotts’ final appearances was in 2004 at the 2nd annual TV Land Awards. It was also one of the final times that Knotts and Griffith would be seen together before Knotts’ death in 2006.
Knotts Regretted Leaving the Show
Knotts believed “The Andy Griffith Show” was over in 1965, so he signed on with Universal Studios to do multiple films. Meanwhile, Griffith was pressured by the network to keep the show going. Years later, Knotts admitted regret over leaving the sitcom so soon.
He Was "The Reluctant Astronaut"
Despite no longer being a sitcom star, Knotts took comfort in films like 1967’s “The Reluctant Astronaut.” In it, the actor played Roy Fleming, a man whose father sends in an application for him to NASA so that he can become something important like an astronaut.
"The Shakiest Gun in the West"
Knotts continued to show his signature shocked look in the 1968 film “The Shakiest Gun in the West." In it, he played Doctor Jesse Heywood, a dental school graduate from Philadelphia who heads west to become a dentist in the year 1870.
He Starred in "The Love God?"
Knotts never considered himself a ladies' man, and yet that’s the role he took on for Universal Pictures’ 1969 film “The Love God?” This was a major stretch for the actor but he did a terrific job as a playboy.
"How to Frame a Figg"
Although Knotts’ previous role had been a serious one, he went back to doing what he did best when he starred in the 1971 comedy film “How to Frame a Figg.” But he was already an audience favorite going as far back as the 1950s.
He Was on "The Steve Allen Show"
Knotts was a guest on “The Steve Allen Show” in 1956. Not only did Steve Allen consider the actor one of his personal favorite guests, but the audience fell head over heels in love with him, too.
He Appeared on "Matlock"
Knotts and Griffith reunited on the television series “Matlock,” which starred Griffith as the main character. This time Knotts was only a guest star, but he did recur on the show as Les Calhoun, an annoying neighbor.
Knotts Was Happy to Work With Griffith Again
It had been 20 years since Knotts and Griffith had worked together on “The Andy Griffith Show.” So, getting to work with him on “Matlock” was a real treat for him and Griffith reportedly felt the same way. But it wasn’t the last time these two would work together.
He Remained Friends With Griffith
Many years passed and a lot of things changed in Knotts’ career, but there was one thing that was constant in his life and that was Griffith. The two actors not only played friends onscreen, but were also very close friends in real life. And the two never had any major fall-outs in all of that time.
He and Griffith Went Back a Long Way
Most people assume that Knotts' and Griffith’s first role together was on “The Andy Griffith Show.” But the two actors go way back to the 1950s when they both starred in the 1958 film “No Time for Sergeants.”
"The Andy Griffith Show" Cast Reunited
A revival of “The Andy Griffith Show” aired in 1986, and Knotts reprised his role of Barney Fife. And while the cast was happy to all be in front of the cameras again, it was the original show’s fans who felt blessed by this reunion. But did Knotts ever work on another sitcom?
"Three’s Company" Too!
In the 1970s, Knotts found himself back at work on another sitcom called “Three’s Company.” This time, he played a landlord named Ralph Furley who replaced the original landlords after they transitioned to the show’s spin-off.
He Was Friends With John Ritter
Knotts worked on “Three’s Company,” which also starred the late comedic actor John Ritter. The two became very good friends offscreen as well. And Knotts even did a cameo on Ritter’s other sitcom series, “8 Simple Rules.”
He Played Deputy Fife on Another Sitcom
To pay tribute to the memorable character he played on “The Andy Griffith Show,” Knotts guest-starred on the sitcom “Step by Step” during its third season as Deputy Fife in 1993. The show starred Suzanne Somers, who was also on “Three’s Company.”
He Also Appeared in "The Apple Dumpling Gang"
Knotts played Theodore Oglevie in “The Apple Dumpling Gang” in 1975. The comedy took place in Western times and centered around a gambler who got stuck caring for orphans who struck gold during the famous California Gold Rush.
Knotts Starred in "No Deposit, No Return"
A year after “The Apple Dumpling Gang,” Knotts starred in “No Deposit, No Return.” The film was about two kids who pretended to be held hostage to collect a ransom. Knotts played a comedic sidekick of a fellow safecracker.
He Starred in "Gus"
Knotts played a coach in the 1976 film “Gus.” His character spent a lot of time screaming at the players on the field. The film was one of the first ever to be released on home video in 1981.
He Appeared in "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo"
In 1977, Knotts played Wheely Applegate, a deuteragonist in the comedic film “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo.” His character was kind, smart, funny and somewhat sarcastic. He was also determined to resuscitate his friend Jim’s racing career.
He Had "Hot Lead and Cold Feet"
In 1978, Knotts was a Sheriff named Denver Kid in the film “Hot Lead and Cold Feet.” It was a comedy western and one of many in this genre that the actor starred in during his incredible career.
"The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again"
In 1979, Knots reprised his role of Amos in the sequel film “The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again.” The film also starred “The Carol Burnett Show” star Tim Conway as Theodore. But the sequel wasn’t as big of a hit with critics as the original.
Knotts and Conway Tried Again
Although “The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again” film wasn’t a big hit, Knotts and Conway teamed up again in the comedic film “The Prize Fighter.” Conway played an underdog boxer, and Knotts played his manager. Best of all, the film was a huge success at the box office.
Knotts Starred in "The Private Eyes"
Knotts had a great working relationship with Conway just like he had with Griffith. So, the two of them co-starred again in the 1980 comedy “The Private Eyes” as two detectives working in Scotland Yard.
He Was in "Cannonball Run II"
Knotts also starred in the 1984 film “Cannonball Run II,” which was about a group of daredevil motorists that go on a cross-country car race for the chance to win $1 million. But compared to “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo,” “Cannonball Run II” was a total flop.
He Voiced a Character in "Chicken Little"
Even in his 80's, Knotts showed no signs of retiring from Hollywood. In fact, one of his final movie roles was voicing the hilarious Mayor Turkey Lurkey in the 2005 animated children’s film “Chicken Little.” But it wasn’t the only voiceover role he had done.
He Had a Voiceover Cameo in "Dave the Barbarian"
Although he was heard but not seen in 2005’s “Chicken Little,” Knotts had done voiceover work on an animated show called “Dave the Barbarian,” in 2004. But his role was limited to a very short cameo.
He Was Given a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
On January 19, 2000, Knotts was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And naturally, his longtime friend and former co-star Andy Griffith was there to celebrate this major milestone in his career.
He Found Love Yet Again
Third time was the charm for Knotts when he found love again. This time it was with actress Frances Yarborough who starred in the 1976 film “The Electric Chair.” They married in 2002 and remained together until he passed away.
He Passed Away At 81
Sadly, Knotts developed pneumonia related to lung cancer. And on February 24, 2006, he passed away at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, from pulmonary and respiratory problems. He was 81.
He Was Laid To Rest With Other Celebrities
Knotts was buried in Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California, where other celebrities have been laid to rest over the years. His gravestone reads: “He saw the poignancy in people’s pride and pain and turned it into something hilarious and endearing.”
Dennis Weaver Passed Away On the Same Day
Actor Dennis Weaver passed away on the same day and at the same age as Knotts. But what was their special connection? Both he and Knotts had worked alongside each other several times over the course of their Hollywood careers.
Knotts Received Critical Acclaim for His Roles
Although Knotts is no longer with us, the actor has continued to receive exceptionally good reviews from most critics for his role on “The Andy Griffith Show” and on “Three’s Company.” But of course, they had plenty of other roles to praise him for.
Knotts Had Remained Pretty Active
Knotts practically worked until the end of his life. As a result, he was credited with working on over 86 TV shows and movies during his lifetime. And that's an accomplishment some Hollywood actors could only ever dream of achieving.