Nobody could make Andy Griffith laugh like Don Knotts, but Don’s real life was far from perfect. The multi-talented actor continued to bring laughter to every home in America for decades, appearing in a multitude of films and shows up until his last day. Don lived a fascinating life that one can only hope to match one day. A man filled with joy and ambition, he passed on his attitude to all those who surrounded him even though his life was filled with personal and professional challenges. But the reaction that he received at the end of his days was unbelievable.
A Whopping Five!
Don Knotts was nominated for and won five Primetime Emmy awards for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Comedy for playing Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
The show would continue to win many more awards by many of its actors during its long run on television. Don Knotts’ awards are still quite impressive and certainly add to the esteem that is held for the beloved show. Knotts may only have served as a supporting actor, but he was still a crucial part of Andy Griffith’s masterpiece.
A Service Man
Knotts served in the United States Army, under the military number “35 756 363”, from June 1943 to January 1946. He was discharged in the rank of Technician Grade 5, which was the same as being called a Corporal. This event occurred far before he thought about making a career in acting.
It was only after his discharge that he started to take steps to join the entertainment industry. He was lucky enough to be selected for quite a few prominent roles post-discharge, which only helped him become recognized for the efforts that he’d put in while in the service.
What a Vet!
Don Knotts participated in the defense during the second world conflict. He was awarded a slew of medals, such as the second world conflict Victory Medal, Philippine Liberation Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with four bronze service stars), Army Good Conduct Medal, Marksman Badge (with Carbine Bar) and Honorable Service Lapel Pin.
And he managed to acquire all of these medals without even participating in any direct contact with the opponents. Don Knotts was a comedian and a lover, but certainly not a battler.
Don the Frat Boy
The future Barney Fife was a member of the Phi Sigma Kappa Fraternity. This organization was founded on March 15, 1873, at Massachusetts Agricultural College in Amherst. The fraternity then merged with Phi Sigma Epsilon in 1985, which was the largest compilation of Greek-letter fraternities.
Don Knotts received his four-year degree in Education from West Virginia University in Morgantown in 1948. Though he didn’t graduate with honors, the priority at that point was for him to break into the film and television industry. We imagine if he went on to become a teacher, he would have a wonderful hands-on approach with his students.
A Challenging Youth
Don Knotts was born in a small city in West Virginia called Morgantown. Don was born after his parents had already raised other sons. His father was extremely scared at the prospect of raising another child and eventually had such severe health issues as a result that he was not very present during Knotts’ childhood.
Don’s youth did not get any easier when his older brother Earl (nicknamed Shadow) passed away from asthma in 1942. Knotts was still a teenager at the time. To add to the challenging situation, this was just a year prior to getting recruited to serve.
Don Knotts was known for his many nuptials, the first of which was to Kathryn Metz from 1947 to 1966. They had two children, Thomas and Karen Knotts. His daughter went on to follow in her father’s footsteps as an actress but is not very well known in this role. Nonetheless, her last name helped her land a few roles.
Karen Knotts works as a standup comedian and is also a SAG/AFTRA actor. She studied at USC School of Cinematic Art. Unfortunately, Don Knotts and Kathryn Metz separated in 1966, and Don went on to marry two other women after that.
Don Knotts’ second marriage was to Loralee Czuchna, and it lasted from the mid-seventies to the end of the eighties. This was a hard time for Don, who had become obsessed with his health and was experiencing spells of deep depression.
This ailment was one justification behind the couple growing apart and eventually getting divorced. Don Knotts was actually in a deeply unwell by the time the couple finally split up, and it would take him some time to rethink his life after the fact. It would take Knotts a long time to remarry for the third and last time.
People’s Pride and Pain
In fact, Don did not remarry again until the turn of the century. Knotts’ third marriage was to Frances Yarborough from 2002 until the end of his life in 2006. Frances Yarborough is an actress famous for her role in the 1976 The Electric Chair film.
The film failed in the box office and was forgotten by audience members and critics. Frances Yarborough spoke on the radio about Don and said: “He saw poignancy in people’s pride and pain and he turned it into something endearing and hilarious.” This quote perfectly illustrates Don’s character.
Knotts took an entry-level job plucking chickens for a market when he was told he would not become a successful actor. He sure proved them all wrong by becoming one of the United States’ favorite TV personalities!
Knotts was known as a very reliable and hard-working actor who he always showed up on set ready to go! This was possibly because he knew that he had to prove himself every single time he went on a show. He had a rough past and did not want to end up there.
Before he became so well known thanks to the “The Andy Griffith Show,” Don Knotts wanted to be a ventriloquist. When he got out of high school, he decided to make it his full-time career. His wooden doll was named Danny; Don thought that “Don and Danny” was a catchy phrase.
Knotts was eventually successful by pairing up with partners like Tim Conway. The comedy duo acted in many films together. This decision brought joy to the general public, who is also grateful that he did not end up pursuing his ventriloquist career.
It Seems to Me
Accustomed to playing socially inept and high strung men with low self-esteem, Knotts used oddly wide-eyed stares to express shock or frustration. He also employed a high-pitched voice to better illustrate his point.
It was especially his stare that made him as famous as he was. He managed to use his facial expressions and show his emotions without even saying a word. Still, to this day, he is often parodied on animated series like Family Guys and The Simpsons.
Knotts participated four times on the Hollywood Squares game show. Popular in its time, it has been replaced by game shows like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?.
In 2013, TV Guide ranked “Hollywood Squares” at No. 7 on its list of the 60 greatest game shows ever. It was, however, quite a big deal back in the day, and not many people were fortunate enough to appear on it twice, let alone four times like Knotts.
The TV Land Awards
One of Don Knotts’ last award show appearances was the 2004 TV Land Awards. It was one of Knotts and Griffith’s last appearances together, with many critics commenting on Knotts’ aging appearance in comparison to Griffith. Awards are given in a few different categories which change slightly from year to year.
They originally included prizes voted on by visitors to TV Land’s internet website. He managed to collect TV Land Legend Award at the award ceremony, which only solidified his great career.
In 1965, Don Knotts left The Andy Griffith Show because he had already agreed to a multi-picture deal with Universal Studios because he thought that the show was over.
However, Andy Griffith kept the show going for several more years after studio network pressure got to him. Don Knotts said later that he regretted leaving the show, but his film commitments prevented him from appearing regularly anyway. At the same time, were it not for this mistake, the public would never have been able to watch Knotts in so many movies.
Framing a Figg
For Universal Pictures, Don Knotts appeared in How to Frame a Figg in 1971. Knotts returned to his trademark comedian role for this film by flashing his trademark wide-eyed face throughout the film.
This film is about a bookkeeper’s assistant, Hollis Alexander Figg, in the Dalton City Hall, who finds himself framed for illegal activity. He managed to make a comeback with this film, as it fit his character much better than The Love God? had to offer.
A Household Favorite
Don Knotts had a consistent gig on The Steve Allen Show, hosted by Steve Allen by 1956. He was an audience favorite, and his appearances turned him into a household name, as well as one of Steve Allen’s personal favorite collaborators.
Jack Paar and Jay Leno would follow in Allen’s footsteps. Don Knotts actually managed to make himself known to audiences who did not watch his movies at the time, meaning he was one of the most famous people at the time.
A Much-Need Reunion
Knotts was part of several television guest spots, including a recurring gig as the annoying neighbor Les Calhoun on Griffith’s Matlock series until 1992.
Griffith and Knotts loved having the second chance to work together again, and both commented on how it was a pleasure coming to work each day, both to socialize and to share the spotlight. It was also a pleasure for the audiences as well! The two had an incredible on-screen charisma which viewers could enjoy to the fullest.
A Lousy Return
He reappeared as his old character for a 1986 reunion of The Andy Griffith Show. The revival was watched by many but received mediocre reviews from critics, who thought that perhaps the time had passed for such a show.
Unfortunately, the audiences were probably right about this one. It seemed as if the show simply did not live up to the expectations. The audience was disappointed but ultimately knew that it was time to say goodbye to Andy and Don.
The Nosy Neighbor
Don Knotts was cast as the moronic landlord Ralph Furley on the wildly popular sitcom Three’s Company after the original landlords, the Ropers, were spun off into their own show.
The Three’s Company program aired eight years on ABC, from March 15, 1977, to September 18, 1984. He was even nominated for “Favorite Nosy Neighbor” for his acting in the show. Unfortunately, he lost the award to Sandra Gould, who was then acting in “Bewitched.”
Until the Very End
His daughter, Karen, couldn’t help but laugh enthusiastically when he cracked a joke while resting in bed in his final days. She said, “Here’s the thing about my dad. He had this funniness that was just completely, insanely natural.
When he was dying, he was making us laugh in hysterics.” Karen stated that she later wished she hadn’t left the room to laugh. She was trying to be polite but recognized that she should have stayed so her father could watch the joke’s landing.
Don Knotts saw his final days at age 81 on February 24, 2006, at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California from respiratory and pulmonary complications to pneumonia relating to a lung illness.
He was being treated at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in the months before his passing but had gone home after he had been feeling better. Back in 2011, his family decided to replace the grave’s headstone with a bronze plaque that displays some of Knotts’ most popular characters.
In 2005, Don Knotts was the voice of Mayor Turkey Lurkey in Disney’s animated film Chicken Little in 2005. It turned out to be one of his final films. The film was a huge success in the box office!
It was dedicated to a Disney artist, Joe Grant, who passed away from a heart attack before the film’s release. Don Knotts did an amazing job with his voiceover and was then admired by kids from all over the world. He was still entertaining the younger generations, regardless of his age.
An Active Thespian
Knotts never retired from acting; he was an active thespian up until his last days in 2006. He was famous for being one of the hardest-working actors in the business and was always a fan favorite, even in his later years.
During his career, Don Knotts appeared in more than eighty-six movies and television shows. Many of those television shows were very long-running! Many might say that it was the stress that finally caught up with him, but those claims were disproven by Knotts himself.
Don Knotts was great friends with the incredible Andy Griffith. They remained life-long friends and worked together countless times during their careers. It was well-known that the two never argued for more than a couple of minutes.
This was clearly shown in the way that they managed to display such charisma and such connection on-screen each time they appeared together. It was as though they were acquainted with the whole world, and nothing was there to stop them.