Comedy Icon Don Knotts Dies
Five Emmys for Barney Fife
Los Angeles, CA – Don Knotts, the gangly actor best known for his masterful portrayals of such befuddled misfits as Deputy Barney Fife on the classic 1960s TV comedy The Andy Griffith Show and landlord Ralph Furley on the ’80s sitcom Three’s Company, died Friday night at UCLA Medical Center. Emmy winner Knotts, who was 81, passed away from pulmonary and respiratory complications.
Knotts, who starred in seven television series and more than two dozen feature films, began performing in high school, when he developed a ventriloquist act. His professional career started in radio after he moved from his native Morgantown, West Virginia, to New York City following a stint in the army and graduation from West Virginia University.
Within six months of arriving in Manhattan with $100 and a dream, Knotts was cast as a handyman on the radio Western Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders. He also performed on the radio soap opera Search for Tomorrow.
In 1956, after five years with Bobby Benson, he broke into television as a featured player on The Steve Allen Show, which also helped to launch the careers of Louis Nye, Tom Poston and Bill Dana. In several of Allen’s faux man-on-the-street interviews, Knotts played a jumpy character named Mr. Morrison, whose initials invariably pertained comically to his occupation.
A small role in the Broadway play No Time For Sergeants and its 1958 film adaptation, both of which starred Andy Griffith, proved to be an unexpected career-maker when, two years later, Griffith helped him land a part in his eponymous TV comedy.
The Andy Griffith Show cemented Knotts’ fame. A top 10 fixture for its entire run, the show, which aired from 1960-68, earned Knotts a record five consecutive Emmys for his iconic portrayal of fumbling Deputy Fife. Knotts maintained an enduring fondness for the role, and always singled it out as his favorite.
When the show ended its run—bowing out as the number one show in America—Knotts embarked on a successful movie career as the star of a string of comedies built around his high-anxiety comic persona. They included The Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Reluctant Astronaut, The Love God?, The Shakiest Gun in the West and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
Knotts also co-starred in the Disney comedies The Apple Dumpling Gang, No Deposit, No Return, Gus and Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo. In 1998, he had a crucial role in the popular movie Pleasantville, in which he played a TV repairman whose magical remote control sends a pair of contemporary siblings into a fictitious TV sitcom of the ’50s.
Knotts also continued to appear in numerous TV series, and in 1979, he joined the cast of 'Three’s Company, starring John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt. Years later he reunited with Griffith when he appeared in a recurring role in Griffith’s popular legal drama Matlock.
More recently, he was in frequent demand as a voice-over performer for cartoons and animated films, including last year’s big-screen hit Chicken Little.
Knotts was married twice. In 1948 he wed Kay Metz, with whom he had two children before divorcing in 1969. He later married, then divorced, Lara Lee Szuchna.
On July 22, 1999, the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television (AAT) interviewed Knotts for more than three hours.
During the interview, Knotts discussed his early comedy routines and ventriloquism acts, which led to radio and television appearances on The Lanny Ross Show (radio), Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (radio), The Garry Moore Show (television) and Steve Allen’s Tonight Show (television).
The latter show’s appearances segued into Knotts’ work as a regular on The Steve Allen Show, appearing memorably in the “Man on the Street” sketches with Tom Poston and Louis Nye, which Knotts described.
He also discussed his early work in radio as a regular on the juvenile western adventure show Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders, as well as the television soap opera Search For Tomorrow.
Knotts went into great detail in his discussion of The Andy Griffith Show, in which he played Deputy Barney Fife” a role that earned him five Emmy Awards. He reflected on his personal and professional relationship with actor Andy Griffith that began with their appearance together on Broadway in No Time For Sergeants and continued throughout both of their respective careers.
He also discussed his appearances on various television variety shows and specials; his feature film appearances; and his work on the series The Don Knotts Show, Three’s Company and Matlock.