We all remember the hilarious jokes by the award-winning and highly talented actor, Don Knotts. The actor is best known for his iconic role as Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, but that wasn’t his only important role, as he continued making people laugh for many more years after. In this article, we’ll go over the life and activities of Knotts, from his military service to his unique acting career.
This is going to be a heartwarming trip down memory lane for fans of The Andy Griffith Show, and a great way for you to get to know the comedy phenomenon that was Don Knotts. If you’re interested in knowing the ins and outs of this wonderful actor, you’re exactly in the right place at the right time. So, grab onto your hats ladies and gents, and let’s take a deep dive into the life of Don Knotts!
A Distinguished Award-Winning Actor
Don Knotts had his share of outstanding accomplishments and honors for his incredible acting career. The successful comedic actor won a total of 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 itself was a huge success and won many awards, both for its actors and for the show itself. Knotts passed away just a few years ago in early 2006, but his legacy lives on for the broad public through his many awards and acting appearances.
Drafted during World War II
Don Knotts first enlisted in the United States Army at the young age of 19. He began his military duty as a Reservist but was kept in that position for just one week. On June 21st, he was transferred from the reserves to active duty status. This all happened during World War II, which made it a very dangerous and scary time to be a soldier.
Knotts was drafted like many Americans in 1943, however, unlike many of his allies, he did not engage in combat and did not fire a single bullet during his entire military service. In fact, the job that he was given was that of helping build up the morale of his fellow soldiers. Knotts was tasked with entertaining other soldiers and helping keep their sense of enthusiasm high.
US Military Service Record
As we’ve previously mentioned, Don Knotts served in the United States military during the height of World War II. His service began when he was drafted on June 21st, 1943. He kept to his post for three years up until January 6th, 1946. The soon-to-be actor was discharged as a Grade 5 Technician, roughly on the same level as a corporal, under his military number of 35-756-363.
It was only a few years after being drafted that Knotts even began his acting career, as he only received his first role opportunity after being discharged as a veteran. From there, the successful actor went on to lead an exceptionally great acting career thanks to many good decisions and a fantastic start in the entertainment industry. Right from the start, Knotts enjoyed a few key roles that helped him become a recognized and beloved acting figure.
Military Service Honors & Awards
Knotts was discharged in 1946 as an honorable World War II veteran with a distinguished military record. The veteran received various medals and awards, including the World War II 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.
What the most interesting thing is about all the honors and awards that the military veteran received, is that he managed to accumulate all of them through a military service that was completely non-combat related. We’ve previously stated that Knotts never even had to fire his gun during his entire service, despite serving in the middle of World War II. This is a great testament to his character and skills, while also being a sign for the fantastic things to come in his entertainment career. More than anything, Knotts was looking to entertain people, not hurt them.
The Phi Sigma Kappa Fraternity
When Don Knotts went to college, he was a member of a popular fraternity called Phi Sigma Kappa. It was originally founded on March 15, 1873, at the Massachusetts Agricultural College in Amherst.
After almost a decade of existence, the fraternity merged with Phi Sigma Epsilon in 1985, this event was considered to be one of the largest mergers of Greek-letter fraternities at the time.
Don Knotts went to university in West Virginia and received his Bachelor’s degree in Education during the late ‘40s. The veteran didn’t end up using his degree in the field of education, as he went on to take up various menial jobs, only to eventually become a popular actor. However, if he had indeed gone on to become a teacher, we assume he would have been one of the most beloved and entertaining teachers in the entire United States.
Up until this point in his life, Knotts had accomplished a fair amount of things, from serving during World War II as a decorated veteran to finishing university with his Bachelor’s degree in Education. He had quite a promising future ahead of him and was looking to make the most out of his life. We’re happy to spoil the ending and tells you that he did a fantastic job at that, so it’s not a surprise that Knotts eventually even got his own statue erected in his memory.
A Troubled Family
Despite his easy-going and entertaining nature, Don Knotts experienced a great deal of tragedy and loss during his youth. He was born in Morgantown, West Virginia to a family with only brothers. Unfortunately, his parents weren’t quite ready for him being added to the family tree. Knott’s father couldn’t deal with the pressure of another male child and eventually found himself having a mental breakdown, which resulted in a full loss of his mental function due to becoming a paranoid schizophrenic and an alcoholic. These two likely fueled each other, as mental illness is often both the cause and the result of alcoholism and vice-versa.
It was not just his father that suffered a tragic break-down though, as Knott’s older brother Earl, who was often called “Shadow” due to being very thin and fragile, died from asthma in 1942 when Knotts was just a teenager. The grieving brother was sent into military service just a year later, where his job was to entertain other soldiers. It’s unclear whether Knott’s sense of humor came despite his life’s tragedies or as a result of them. Actors like Jim Carrey often describe how their family’s troubles actually caused them to become entertainers. This might have been the case with Knotts as-well.
His First Marriage
Don Knotts has been married several times throughout his life, his first marriage however was his longest-running one, as the others were definitely less successful. Knotts married Kathryn Metz in 1947 and the two were together for almost two decades until 1966. They had two children together, Thomas Knotts and Karen Knotts, with the latter eventually pursuing an acting career herself. Despite not being a well known actress, there’s no doubt that her last name must have given her a boost when the time came for casting.
His daughter, Karen, went to school at the USC School of Cinematic Art and also went on to work as a standup comic and a SAG/AFTRA actress. Don and his wife Katheryn got divorced in 1966, with Don subsequently marrying a second wife, divorcing her, and then marrying a third.
His Second Marriage
Eight years after divorcing Katheryne and ending their almost two-decades-long marriage, Don Knotts found his second wife and got married again. This time the lucky (or unlucky) lady was Loralee Czuchna, and the two got married in 1974. This marriage lasted slightly less time than the previous one, and after 15 years it also ended in divorce. In the early ‘70s, rumors of Don going through a mental health breakdown were beginning to circle the media. Here’s what the actual story was…
Apparently, Don was going through a severe bout with depression that began with him obsessing about his health. His depression gradually became worse over time and was cited as the reason for the married couple growing apart over the years until their eventual divorce. The actor was fully engaged in his depression by the time the couple ended their relationship, and the separation left him dealing with both his damaged mental state, as-well-as the painful feelings associated with the separation from one’s spouse. It took Don almost 15 years until he decided to get married again after that.
His Third and Final Marriage
You could say that Don Knotts had his “third time’s the charm” moment with his third and final marriage. The two were married in 2002 and stayed together until his eventual passing, but that statement would definitely carry a lot more weight if they had been married for more than a measly 4 years before his death. Don’s final marriage was to Frances Yarborough, an actress who was moderately known for starring in a 1976 film called The Electric Chair. The film received poor critical success and was quickly gone from the minds of critics and consumers. Needless to say, she didn’t gain much attention after that.
The one-shot actress never rose in prominence after the film and is now mostly known for being the wife (now widow) of Don Knotts. After his death, she went on air and eulogized him by saying: “He saw poignancy in people’s pride and pain and he turned it into something endearing and hilarious.” It’s unclear what the nature of Don and Frances’ relationship was or why the two decided to get married at such a late stage in their lives, but at least it’s comforting to know that Don spent his final years in good company.
His First Serious Job
When Don Knotts first tried his luck at acting he was told by various talent hunters that he didn’t have what it takes for a future in acting. Despite their discouragement, he remained motivated and vigilant, never stopping until he eventually achieved his goal of becoming a successful actor. During the time he spent trying out and auditioning for various roles, Knotts was working as a chicken plucker to support himself. He eventually went on to become one of America’s most beloved celebrities and was loved by audiences and film crews alike — the former for his enthusiasm and highly-entertaining personality, the later for his work ethic, reliability, and always being ready to perform when needed.
One possible reason why Don was such a hard worker and prided himself on always being ready is because of his difficult childhood and a feeling that he had to be self-sufficient in order to survive. Most boys who have highly dysfunctional fathers, must either teach themselves how to become men or risk becoming dysfunctional themselves. It’s a good thing Don went for the first choice.
His Career As a Ventriloquist
Despite being known mostly as an actor, especially for his role on The Andy Griffith Show, Don’s first passion and career were actually as a ventriloquist. He was always the entertainer type and thought this would be a great opportunity for him to support himself while making others happy. His acts were well received and he went on to achieve a respectable level of success in this otherwise relatively fruitless vocation.
Don often appeared with a regular doll called Danny, who looked just as creepy as you might have imagined a ventriloquist doll from the ‘40s would be. Despite the doll’s haunting appearance, horror films were much less popular at the time, which meant people were able to enjoy its performance. Don and Danny made a great team and even ended up with the nickname – “The Don and Danny Duo”. Knotts saw his career as a ventriloquist rise even higher when he decided to partner up with Tim Conway. The two went on to appear in many films together, as Don began to focus most of his attention on acting, and gradually allowed his career as a ventriloquist to fade.
The On-Screen Persona
Don Knotts portrayed many characters throughout his long-lasting career, however, almost all of his roles featured characters that had many characteristics in common. While some actors such as Leonardo Dicaprio, Joaquin Phoenix and Tom Hardy attempt to take as many varied roles as possible, some actors like Knotts favor finding their voice (or expression in his case) and use it as their go-to personality whenever they act in films and shows. Don’s characters were all nervous and anxious men who had really bad social skills and low self-esteem. He would often appear doing his iconic wide-eyed star expression whenever a situation would cause him stress.
Other unique features that made his characters memorable were his high-pitched voice and whiny but hilarious complaints. Overall, his ability to convey a large set of emotions through nothing but his facial expressions made him very entertaining and relatable. Knotts’ over-the-top characters and his consistent acting persona made him a funny and reliable actor, both for audiences and for filmmakers. This consistency and dependability led him to get cast in numerous roles throughout his long and fruitful career, as it was always a “safe bet” to go with an actor like him where you know what you’re going to be getting. Knott’s persona is quite famous, and often gets parodied to this day on shows such as “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy”.
Appearances in Hollywood Squares
The popular actor appeared four times in the famous television game show, Hollywood Squares, a tic-tac-toe game with prizes. Although the game show eventually lost its popularity due to much more intense and serious shows such as “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”, it’s still remembered fondly for its comical nature and light entertainment qualities. Hollywood Squares was ranked in 2013 as the 7th greatest game shows of all time by TV Guide, and for good reasons.
The game show was quite a hit at the time and helped pioneer the game show format and inspire other shows that followed. It was quite rare for anyone to appear twice on the show, which goes to show just how talented and lucky Don Knotts was, as he went on to appear not once but a total of four times on Hollywood Squares.
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken
Another famous appearance by the legendary Don Knotts was the 1966 black and white film “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken”. Perhaps its name might make you think that it was somehow related to the actor’s past profession as a chicken plucker, but the film was actually a romantic comedy-drama, and was originally named “Running Scared”. The film’s cover features Don Knotts in his usual wide-eyed and surprised expression, with the film’s slogan promising “You’ll be scared until you laugh yourself silly – G-G-GUARANTEED!”.
In the film, Don plays as a newspaper typesetter named Luther Heggs, who aspires to become a reporter and decides to write about Simmons Mansion, a haunted house in the fictional city of Rachel, Kansas. He ends up spending the night there, as hilarious encounters and situations ensue. His girlfriend in the film, Alma Parker, was a relatively small-time actress, who went on to appear in just a few more films before deciding to concentrate on TV shows after a horseback riding accident.
His Final Awards Ceremony
One of Don’s last public appearances occurred in 2004 at the TV Land Awards, just two years before the actor eventually passed away. He was 79 at the time of the event and appeared with Andy Griffith, the star of The Andy Griffith Show who played alongside him for almost 250 episodes. They were playing alongside each other for so long, that the show transitioned from being filmed in black and white to color during its 160th episode!
Unfortunately, many people commented that Don Knotts appears to be much older than Andy Griffith, despite being just two years his senior. The event was a very positive and fun experience for Knotts, and he even managed to receive a TV Land Legend Award during the ceremony, thanks to many of his fans voting for him as the number one choice for that award on TV Land’s website.
The Andy Griffith Show
One of the most important acting opportunities in Don Knotts’s life was his role as Barney Fife, the deputy and cousin of Sheriff Andy Taylor (portrayed by Andy Griffith). His role in the popular show landed him five Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Comedy. Don was initially disappointed for being put in the show as comedic relief rather than a serious character but was still happy to get a chance to work on the show.
Unfortunately, the popular actor signed a contract in 1965 with Universal Studios which made him unavailable for further appearances on the show, since he was under the impression that the show was over. The Andy Griffith show ended up running for a few more years, and Knotts later commented that he deeply regretted having to leave the show.
The Big Flop
One of the actor’s more interesting films was The Reluctant Astronaut, a 1967 comedy film about a carnival ride operator who is sent into space as a result of an administrative oversight. This was his second Universal Film venture after The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and ended up flopping due to extremely bad luck, when an actual space mission, Apollo 1, was struck in a fire disaster that killed three astronauts just two days before the event.
Typical with many of Knotts films, the poster for the movie contained Knott’s iconic wide-eyed surprised expression, the word “technicolor” signifying that it was made in color, and the tagline, which was “He’s an Astro-Knott turned Astronaut in the Maddest Mixup in Space History!!” Despite the film’s mediocre performance, it received overall positive reviews and became a popular children’s film and was frequently shown on weekend afternoons. Knotts was even nominated for a Male Comedy Performance Award but didn’t end up taking the win.
Another one of Don Knotts’ goofy hero films was the 1968 western-comedy, The Shakiest Gun in the West. The film stars Don Knotts as Jesse W. Haywood, a man who finds himself as a reluctant cowboy. It’s worth pointing out that many of Knotts films revolve around his characters landing up in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as a reporter unwillingly stuck in a haunted mansion, the reluctant astronaut, and now – a reluctant cowboy.
The poster again features his iconic surprised face, with the tagline reading “S-s-s-stick’em-u-u-u-p????” The film was a relative success and was mostly praised for its stronger comedic elements when compared to his previous two films. The Shakiest Gun in the West was also cited as one of the biggest influences for John Depp’s popular 2011 CGI action comedy film, Rango. This Don Knotts film definitely stands the test of time and is worth watching even today, especially if you like Western films.
Don Knotts’ 1969 feature film, The Love God? was another one of his goofy comedies where his character ends up in a series of unplanned and unintended events that end up producing some hilarious results. The reason for the question mark in the film’s title is that Don Knotts wasn’t exactly known as one of Hollywood’s sexiest men. In fact, he was often portrayed as the exact opposite of that, starring as the butt of countless jokes. In The Love God? Knotts takes the role of a playboy who becomes an unwitting male celebrity that women all across the world chase after.
This was the star’s fourth Universal Pictures feature film and was rated as a G-rated family comedy. It was the studio’s attempt at integrating the actor into the more mature and adult-related films of the late ’60s and early ’70s. The film was called one of the funniest films in years by Kevin Thomas and was well received by many critiques for its parody of popular culture at the time, although some critics disagreed and called it a poorly made attempt at satirizing pornography.
How to Frame a Figg
In yet another Universal Pictures production, Don Knotts reprises his role as an unwitting goofball assistant in the 1971 comedy, How to Frame a Figg. In the movie, Knotts plays Hollis Alexander Figg, a bookkeeper’s assistant in the Dalton city hall who is framed for embezzlement. This film is definitely a return to the odd and socially inept role he often plays, as opposed to the poor attempt at making him suave in “The Love God?”. The film did moderately well with viewers and currently holds a 72% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 743 user reviews. After all, it’s another Don Knotts comedy mixed with some juvenile humor.
By this point, the actor’s five-film contract with Universal Pictures was up, and he did not appear in any more slapstick comedy films for the next 4 years. This hiatus from comedies was probably a good decision since the goofy reluctant-hero comedy formula was starting to wear off and it was time go for something new.
The Steve Allen Show
Knotts often appeared on The Steve Allen Show, an American variety show hosted by Steve Allen. He would mostly appear in Allen’s mock “man on the street” interviews in his usual awkward personality and behavior and remained with the show from 1959 until 1960. The actor was one of the audience’s favorite actors on the show, and his appearances helped dramatically boost his popularity with audiences at home.
The show aired for six seasons with 167 episodes and was essentially the predecessor to popular shows like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Knotts helped popularise the show due to its popular “Man on the street” sketches, which ended up becoming the show’s best and longest-running gags. The Steve Allen Show won a Peabody Award in 1958 and was critically acclaimed for its genuine sense of humor.
The Andy Griffith Sequel – Matlock
Matlock was a popular legal drama show starring Andy Griffith as the lead character, with Don Knotts also appearing occasionally on the show before being cut in the last few seasons. Knotts and Griffith were happy for the chance to act together again after a long time apart, this was a welcome surprise for the two since their acting relationship was cut short while they were co-acting in The Andy Griffith Show. Both actors later commented that every day they got to work together was an absolute pleasure. Knott played as his typical awkward, annoying and unintentionally funny persona as Les “Ace” Calhoun, Matlock’s annoying next-door neighbor.
Knotts and Griffith worked fantastically together and their joint actions resulted in some amazing scenes together. It was immediately evident that the duo had great chemistry and truly enjoyed working together. Luckily, this would not be the last time that the two talented actors got to perform together on the same set, as they later came together one more time for the filming of the popular Andy Griffith Show Reunion, Return to Mayberry.
Return to Mayberry
Don Knotts made one last reprisal of his popular character from The Andy Griffith Show, Barney Fife, who was an annoying but hilarious deputy sheriff. His character ended up being ranked in 1999 as TV Guides ninth greatest TV characters of all time. The reunion was a made-for-TV comedy film where sixteen of the original cast members returned to reprise their roles in the hopes of some continuation of the show.
The film ended up becoming a finale to the iconic Andy Griffith Show and was the final official appearance of its popular characters. It was a success in terms of rating but received mixed reviews. Return to Mayberry was criticized for being slow, modestly funny and predictable while nostalgic fans undoubtedly let these issues fall to the wayside, as some of the kinder reviewers called it a “marvelous blast from the past”. Unfortunately, the show didn’t age as-well-as the cast had hoped, meaning that this was officially the end of The Andy Griffith Show, although it was quite a dignified one at that.
Don Knotts also played as Ralph Furley, the landlord of an apartment building in Santa Monica from the show Three’s Company. The show was an American sitcom by ABC that aired from 1977 until the end of 1984. The show is based on the British sitcom, Man About The House. Knotts first appeared on the show in season four’s first episode, “The New Landlord”, and stayed up until the last episode of the show. Ralph Furley was quite a peculiar character, with some very odd clothing but an overall good personality.
This was Don Knotts’ second most popular role to date. He joined the show when it was already quite successful and helped make it even better. Originally he was supposed to play the role for only a few episodes as the original landlord characters from the show left to shoot their own spin-off series, but Knotts’ character, Ralph Furley, quickly became one of the audience’s favorites and this caused the writers to add many storylines to his character for future episodes. Knott was nominated for an award called “Favorite Nosy Neighbor” for his role, although he didn’t end up winning it.
The Herbie Franchise
Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo was Disney’s attempt to revive the Herbie franchise, featuring the beloved anthropomorphic 1963 Volkswagen Beetle that has a mind of its own. The franchise started out in the 1968 film The Love Bug but began to lose steam after it’s a sequel, Herbie Rides Again came out in 1974. Don Knotts appeared in the film as Wheely Applegate,
The film received excellent reviews and managed to revive the franchise, which led to younger audiences getting a chance to put on a seatbelt and enjoy the magic of Herbie. If you’re missing that little love bug, check out the later 2005 rendition called Herbie Fully Loaded starring Lindsay Lohan and Justin Long.
Don Knotts Made People Laugh Even During His Last Day
Don Knotts spent most of his life of over seven decades, making people laugh. The actor has been an entertainer since his early twenties and every professional activity he had ever engaged in was for the sole purpose of putting a huge smile on peoples’ faces. His sense of humor was part of his everyday life and came completely naturally to him, to the point of cracking jokes and trying to make people laugh even during his last living days. While on his deathbed, his daughter Karen couldn’t stop laughing when he told her a great joke, despite the tragic nature of the situation. She said he would often make people laugh hysterically without even trying, as it came so naturally to him.
Karen said that in retrospect, she thinks it would have been better to stay in the room and laugh, rather than leave it just to be polite. Her father spent all his life as a comedian, so looking back, it seems that he would have appreciated knowing that he retained his sense of humor until his last moments. Don Knotts was born into a challenging life, and spent most of his young years dealing with various hardships. He used his sense of humor as a tool to make life a bit better for everyone, so it’s not a surprise that he would crack one last joke to make everyone laugh and feel good even on the sad day of his passing.
His Final Day
Don Knotts died in early 2006 at the respectable age of 81, at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. His cause of death was cited as pulmonary and respiratory complications of pneumonia related to lung cancer. His health began to deteriorate in the last few months of his life, after a few years of him visibly aging in a fairly fast manner. The actor went to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for therapy during the last months of his life but had gone home after reporting to his family that his health had improved somewhat.
Knotts was buried at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles. He had many guests attending the funeral and received glowing and loving obituaries, with many of the attendees citing him as one of their greatest influences. In early 2011, his family replaced that granite headstone that marked his grave with a bronze plaque containing an engraved image of many of his most popular characters, such as Roy Fleming from The Reluctant Astronaut and Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show, with the engraving: “He saw the poignancy in people’s pride and pain and turned it into something hilarious and endearing”.
One popular film that many people don’t know that Don Knotts played in is the 2005’s popular animated children’s film Chicken Little. This role ended up being the actor’s final role, which was a fitting ending for a long and successful entertainment career. Knotts voiced the character of Mayor Turkey Lurkey in the iconic Disney film, which ended up being a critically acclaimed film.
The film starred a young and cute rooster who has to deal with social problems after having a panic attack and proclaiming famously that “the sky is falling!”. Don Knotts’ role in the film as Mayor Turkey Lurkey, was a return to his usual style of roles, with him playing a friendly and kind turkey who like the rest of his type-casted characters, is not the brightest tool is the shed.
Don’s Friendship With Andy Griffith
Andy Griffith and Don Knotts were great friends not just on the screen, but also behind the cameras. The two had fantastic chemistry together and have both fondly reflected on their friendship when questioned about it. All you have to do if you want to see their great connection is to watch how Knott makes Griffith laugh during their shows together, it’s immediately clear that they get along really well. When Andy Griffith’s daughter was asked about the duo’s relationship, she said: “He loved Don very, very much. They had a deep and abiding respect for each other, and they remained friends till the end.”
In fact, the two have recently had a book written about them called “Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show”. The book was written by Daniel de Visé and is based on numerous interviews with people who knew these two from childhood, during their professional lives and right up to their passing. Don and Andy were best friends from the 1950s and their friendship continued all the way until their passing, more than five decades later.
His Most Iconic Roles
While Don Knotts appeared in many films and TV shows over the course of his performances as an actor for over five decades, his two biggest roles that would go on to become legendary and iconic were as Deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show (1960) and as Ralph Furley on Three’s Company (1977). The actor became very popular thanks to these two shows, as they eventually set the grounds for his later fame and recognition. These roles got him into many other films and studio deals, and even netted him various awards and honors for his excellent performance on them.
Don quickly rose in prominence to become one of the most famous celebrities in Hollywood at the time, thanks in large part to his recognizability, which was attributed to his unique and consistent persona. Another factor that got him so much success as an actor was his ability to consistently make people laugh and have a good time. Even when acting in what critics would call a “mediocre” film, he would still give the audience a fun experience and they would love him for it. You just knew what to expect when you saw anything with Don Knotts in it — a funny, loving, kind, authentic, goofy and relatable entertainer, doing his best to make you laugh.
He Kept Acting Until His Passing
Don Knotts really enjoyed what he did. Having a career where you are one of America’s most beloved and well-known individuals is a pretty sweet gig. Not to mention the paycheck at the end of it. It’s also a great thing to know that Don had a solid character – he was a good guy with great intentions and always made people bring out their best sides. This is why the actor was so widely appreciated, and never really needed to take a break or deal with any serious drama or controversies.
The successful actor was also known as one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood and was extremely consistent in his performances while having a very likable personality, making him an easy pick for studios. He appeared in over 85 films and TV shows throughout his more than five decades of work. Some of his TV shows would end up running for many years to come, and he truly enjoyed every one of them. Don Knotts really loved what he did, he was an entertainer at heart, right until the end.
Building Each Other Up
We’ve already discussed how Don Knotts and Andy Griffith were truly the best of friends you could ever imagine and stayed that way for over five decades. What’s really unique about their friendship, is that they often claimed to have never had a serious fight and that they were generally able to solve any conflict within just a few minutes without too much effort. The two worked together side by side many times throughout their careers and helped prop each other up, both personally and professionally, many times during their long friendship.
Their charisma and connection are palpable on the screen, and there’s really nothing more entertaining than spending a good Sunday morning with your family while watching these good friends and even greater performers in one of their great performances in shows like The Andy Griffith Show or Murdock.
His Friendship With John Ritter
Knotts had many friends over his lifetime, with a lot of these friendships extending over many decades of his life. He’s the kind of guy that everyone just has good things to say about him, as evident by the many interviews of people who were close to Don throughout his life. One of Don’s great longtime friends was the late actor John Ritter, who appeared alongside Don Knotts’ shows in the successful TV show “8 Simple Rules” back in 2002. The episode was a tribute dedicated to their various previous TV shows and performances, with Knotts wearing one of his usual wacky outfits.
Don was also the last star from “Three’s Company” to ever work with Ritter. The two had a great working relationship and were good friends outside of the studio as well. John Ritter eventually passed away in 2003. He too received various awards and recognitions throughout his life as both actor and comedian.
Cannonball Run II
Over the course of his five decades of acting, it’s not a huge surprise that Don Knotts appeared in a bunch of films that just flopped or even were downright terrible. One example of such movies is the 1984 film Cannonball Run II. It performed horribly at its box office sales and was met with very mediocre reviews, subsequently disappearing completely as fast as it appeared in theaters. The film’s plot is nearly identical to the first one and follows the same template. It’s a sequel that nobody asked for and frankly, nobody really wanted. Cannonball Run II (and 1) is a generic film about illegal cross-country racing.
Despite being an absolute blunder of a film, it did not leave a single mark in Don Knotts’ successful acting career. The actor was practically untouchable, due to his entertaining attitude, genuinely authentic personality, and hilarious characters. Don was truly an untouchable star and one of America’s most favorite entertainers of all time.
His Hollywood Star
Just a few years before his passing in 2006, Don Knotts was awarded a coveted star on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame. The star was placed at 7083 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on January 19, 2000. This is a legendary achievement and one that many stars aspire to throughout their entire lives. Over 2,600 stars have had their feet and hands printed on these iconic steps all along the Hollywood Boulevard sidewalk. It’s quite an achievement and the place is one of the most popular tourist destinations in California with tens of millions of visitors every year.
Don Knotts was seen in the picture above right after the printing with his best friend, Andrew Griffith. He later said that this was the best award he ever received in his entire acting career. That definitely says a lot from a man as humble and accomplished as Don Knotts.
Gus – A Success!
Another one of Don Knotts’ popular appearances was at a 1976 sports film titled Gus. In the movie, Don plays a coach who often screams at his team’s players from the sidelines. It was a box office success and received generally favorable reviews. This was a serious departure from the actor’s usual roles, as he had a much more dramatic and intense tone in this one, compared to any of his previous films.
Gus, as played by Knotts, is again portrayed as an inept person, as his team has not won a single game in many years. The film is also known as the only movie in Don Knotts’ major five films with Tim Conway where they don’t share a single scene.
The Voice Over Years
In his later years, Don Knotts spent most of his time doing voice-overs for animated films. This was due to his declining health and inability to do anything even slightly physically demanding. The actor was then in his late seventies and preferred to lend his voice as a way to keep acting and entertaining people, as he had never wanted to retire from the industry. His role in 2004’s TV show, Dave the Barbarian, was the last TV performance he would do before his passing. The TV show was fairly successful both commercially and critically and managed to draw a considerable audience of children.
The animated TV show mostly revolved around a barbarian named Dave, who goes on incredible adventures with his friends and family. It’s theme is set mostly during medieval times, so it does offer some view for kids into older history. Knott’s guest role on the show was as the Baker in one of the episodes. There’s no doubt that if Don Knotts was still alive, he would do a fantastic job voicing over various characters in cartoons and animated TV shows and films. His voice translates well into the audio medium and brings with it his unique and iconic personality and mannerisms.
Don and Andrew’s Chemistry
One of Don Knotts’ and Andrew Griffin’s first films together was the 1957 comedy, No Time for Sergeants, which helped launch the two popular actors’ careers. It was a major hit with audiences and was the first time that people saw the amazing chemistry between the two actors. You can really see Don’s and Andrew’s relationship shine through the film, and this was a very good sign of things to come from the popular acting duo.
In the film, which is based on a Broadway play, which itself was based on a 1954 best-selling novel by Mac Hayman, we follow the chronicles of a reluctant country bumpkin named Will Stockdale (played by Andrew Griffith) who gets drafted into the United States military Air Forces during World War II. Sergeant Orville King (played by Don Knotts), was his enemy and reluctant mentor in the film.
A Triple Loss to the Acting World on Just One Day
In a very weird and unusual turn of events, two of America’s most popular and entertaining actors were both born in the same year and less than a month apart. If that’s not crazy enough, they also passed away in the same month — on the exact same day. The actors we’re referring to here are Don Knotts, whom we’ve talked about in detail, and Dennis Weaver, one of the most beloved and successful actors at the time, who was also the former president of the Screen Actors Guild. The two worked in many films throughout their acting careers, and their acting paths intersected on many occasions. A third actor who was just two years older than them also passed away just a few hours after them, his name was Darren McGavin.
Dennis Weaver was best known for his roles as Chester Goode on the CBS western Gunsmoke, Marshal Matt Dillon’s trusty partner, and for playing as Deputy Marshal Sam McCloud on the NBC police drama McCloud. He was also the star of the 1971 film Duel, which was the first film ever made by the iconic director Steven Spielberg. He died of complications from cancer in Ridgway, Colorado, just a few hours around the same time that Don Knotts passed away. It’s unknown whether the two had communicated while in their deathbeds before passing away.
His Incredible Grave Plaque
Don Knotts will always be remembered for his various legendary roles, including the portraying the carnival ride operator who was sent to space in The Reluctant Astronaut, his role as Jesse, a reluctant cowboy in The Shakiest Gun in the West, and as Barney Fife, the deputy and cousin of Sheriff Andy Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show. Many people have very fond memories of the man who entertained them and put a smile on their faces from the mid-‘50s up until his passing, five decades later.
Even though almost a decade and a half have passed since Don Knotts died in 2006, his memory lives on as he provides inspiration to many aspiring comedians and entertainers, as-well as those who remember him fondly for his roles. Nothing sums up who Knott was or what he loved most more than the bronze plaque that was made especially in his memory and now rests as part of his grave. The engraved images immediately invoke a sense of nostalgia and longing, as-well-as a warm feeling of happiness at all the wonderful memories this man helped create.
The Last Time I Saw Archie
Don Knotts played in various films that were centered around World War II, it was probably his way of going back to his military past as a decorated veteran who helped raise his soldiers’ morale. In the film The Last Time I Saw Archie, which was a 1961 comedy set in the last days of the Second World War, Don plays as Captain Harry Little.
In the film, Private Arch Hall Sr., played by Robert Mitchum, is a lazy and conniving American in the aviation schools who dominates everyone around him while attempting to not do any work. This leads him to various wacky adventures in what the film called “The Most Uproarious G.I. Comedy of Them All!. ” Unfortunately, the film was not well received by critics and faded away relatively quickly from the eyes of the public.
The Stanley Kramer Film
One of Don Knotts’ more interesting film appearances was his role as the nervous motorist in the epic all-star comedy film by Stanley Kramer called It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. The film features a group of characters, played by some of the most prolific actors of the ’60s, as they all engage in a mad attempt to get $350,000 in stolen cash (more than a million dollars in today’s dollar value). The film features popular actors such as Edie Adams, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas, and Jonathan Winters. It was unfortunately cut short by the studio who distributed it, but eventually, a restored version of the film was released in a five-disc format containing almost the entire 197 minutes of the original film.
The movie was one of the highest-grossing films of all time when adjusted for inflation, and made about $60 million, which is about $500 million in today’s dollars. It won an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing and received Oscar nominations for its color cinematography, film editing, sound recording, music score, and the original title song.
The Incredible Mr. Limpet
Many young people who have never even heard of Don Knotts will recognize this famous picture of him from one of the posters of The Incredible Mr. Limpet. This was one of his later films, which was done in color and based on a 1942 novel of a similar name, where Don plays a man named Henry Limpet who turns into a talking fish that looks like a tilefish. In the film, he helps the United States Navy find and destroy Nazi submarines.
The Incredible Mr. Limpet was a combination of live-action and animation, something which was quite new at the time, and received raving reviews for both its production and overall entertainment value. It also premiered in a very unique location, appearing on January 20, 1964, at the Weeki Wachee Springs Underwater Theater in Spring Hill, Florida. This was the world’s first underwater movie premiere of all time, and Knotts was proud of it, calling it “very very good.”
The Apple Dumpling Gang
One of Don Knotts’ later live-action roles was a return to his roots from The Shakiest Gun in the West, in the form of a 1975 comedy western film called The Apple Dumpling Gang, a Disney film based on the novel of the same name by Jack Bickham. Don took up the role of Theodore Ogilvie, one of the three main characters in the film. The other two leads were played by Bill Bixby as Russell Donovan and Susan Clark who in the role of Magnolia Dusty Clydesdale. The basic plot of the film is about a gambler named Russell Donovan who gets duped into taking care of a bunch of orphans who happened to strike gold during the California Gold Rush.
The film was an absolute hit in the box office and made over $13 million in theatrical rentals, which is over $600 million in today’s money when adjusted for inflation. It received generally mixed reviews, praising it for its humor but criticizing it for the banality of the work. The film was successful enough to warrant a 1979 sequel called The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, which featured the comedy duo of Tim Conway and Don Knotts reprising their popular roles as Amos and Theodore.
In 1976, Don Knotts played in a family comedy film called No Deposit, No Return, where he took the role of Bert Delaney, the hopelessly dumb sidekick of Duke, an expert safecracker. The two are a duo of inept petty criminals who never manage to actually steal anything. The film was based on various short stories by O. Henry, an American short story writer who’s known for writing short stories with surprising endings.
This was another one of Knott’s less than favorable films, as it was criticized for having a “brainless plot” and an uncomfortably-long running time. The film was widely panned by reviewers and didn’t experience any commercial success. Regardless, it didn’t affect Don Knotts career in the least, as he went on to appear in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977), and Hot Lead and Cold Feet (1978) in the two subsequent years after the release of the film.
Hot Lead and Cold Feet
Another comedy film starring Don Knotts in a supporting role was the 1978’s Disney comedy-Western drama film, Hot Lead and Cold Feet. Don plays in the film as Sheriff Denver Kid, another one of his many films involving western themes and roles as either a sheriff or assisting a sheriff, Don did plenty of those in the ‘60s and ‘70s as they were all the rage. The film revolves around a cowman named Jasper Bloodshy who fakes the death of one of his twin sons to write the will of fortune for his other son.
The sons then find out about the plot and work to secure the inheritance for themselves while the father tries to inherit the town for himself. The film was later released on DVD in July 6th, 2004, and received 6.2 out of 10 stars on IMDB according to over 1,000 user reviews.
The Apple Dumpling Take 2
The Apple Dumpling Gang starring Don Knott, Bill Bixby, and Susan Clark received a well-deserved sequel, as it was one of Don’s highest-grossing films with a revenue of over $13.5 million, which was quite a lot of money back in the ’70s. The sequel, which was titled The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, starred the funny duo of Tim Conway and Don Knotts as they reprised their respective roles of Amos and Theodore. This one did even better at the box office and grossed over $20 million. It received generally favorable reviews and was considered a funny movie with great moments.
This was Don Knotts’s last western film for a long time and was followed by two more slapstick comedies with Tim Conway, the boxing comedy The Prize Fighter (1979), and the mystery-comedy The Private Eyes (1980). From there he moved back to TV shows for a few years in his second most identifiable role as Ralph Furley on Three’s Company. Overall the fans were pleased with this sequel, as the actors did a good job sticking to what made the first film work so well.
The Prize Fighter
Don Knotts’ next hilarious film was his 1979 comedy The Prize Fighter, starring Tim Conway as an underdog boxer named Bags and Don Knotts as his trainer, Shake. In the film, Bags is approached by a mobster who tries to get him to take part in a series of fixed boxing matches for the purpose of getting his hands on an old boxing gym.
Don and Tim chose to focus this time on a boxing film because these were becoming more famous in the ’70s and ’80s due to the success of the Rocky films. The movie was very successful in the box office and made over $6 million during its initial release, making it one of the most financially successful films ever released by New World Pictures at the time. This was against a budget of $2 million, making it very profitable as-well.
The Private Eyes
Don Knotts and Tim Conway’s adventures led the two to eventually complete five films together: The Apple Dumpling Gang, Gus, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, The Prize Fighter and finally, The Private Eyes. This was the duo’s last combined film effort, with Don playing as Inspector Winship and Tim Conway as Dr. Tart. The film was a spoof of Sherlock Holmes stories where the two detectives investigate a strange death in a possibly haunted mansion while dealing with its looney staff and beautiful heiress.
This was another one of the duo’s wacky adventures, and was again very commercially successful, with over $12 million in rentals during its initial release. It broke the record again and became New World Picture’s new highest-grossing film of all time.
Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night
One of Don Knotts’ first attempts at doing voice-over work (if you don’t take into account his role as the cartoon fish in The Incredible Mr. Limpet) was his role as Gee Willikers in the 1987 New World Pictures animated film, Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night. Despite putting his best work into it, the film was a failure both critically and commercially.
It made only $3.2 million against a budget of over $10 million, and received negative reviews from critics, citing its choppy story and bad animation. It was very badly reviewed when put in juxtaposition to Disney’s iconic 1940’s Pinocchio, which was one of the most popular, beloved and influential animated films of all time. Disney actually sued Filmation (the animation company) for copyright infringement, but lost the lawsuit due to the studio proving that the characters created by Carlo Collodi were in the public domain. The film has since gained a cult following, and its reviews have improved greatly over the years.
Don Knotts took a break of almost six years from films in favor of appearing in Three’s Company as Ralph Furley. He returned from his hiatus with a supporting role in the 1996 dark comedy film Big Bully. The film starred actors Rick Moranis and Tom Arnolds, with the two playing as former high school classmates who reconnect as adults after Tom’s character, David Leary, was violently bullied by his bigger classmate, Roscoe “Fang” Bigger.
The film turns into madness as David’s childhood past begins to come back to life through the actions of his now-adult bully. This was Rick Moranis’ last live-action film after many successful comedies, but unfortunately, it was an absolute bomb fest. This box office failure grossed a measly $2 million against its budget of $15 million, and was an absolute critical failure, with a rating of 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Big Bully was up for many awards and nominations like the Worst Picture and Worst Actor, although it didn’t even end up winning those.
Cats Don’t Dance
Don Knotts made another attempt at voice-over work with Warner Brothers’ nostalgic 1997 animated musical comedy, Cats Don’t Dance. The film featured Danny, a young and motivated dancing cat who goes to Hollywood with the goal of becoming a famous movie star. Don Knotts voiced in a supporting role as T.W. Turtle, the anxious and superstitious (not at all surprising) turtle who uses fortune cookies to make his decision to came to Hollywood with the hopes of making it big as a star. The character’s singing parts were not done by Don, as they were actually performed by singer Rick Logan. This one was another box office failure and made only $3.5 million against its production budget (not including marketing) of $32 million.
Putting aside the film’s poor commercial performance, it actually received favorable reviews for its great animation, fun humor, and a fantastic soundtrack. This was the first non-Disney film to have ever won a Best Animated Feature award. Cats Don’t Dance was also nominated for numerous awards including Best Effects Animation, Best Sound Editing, Best Animated Picture, Best Performance in Voiceover and much more. It was officially released on VHS in 1997 and then on DVD in 2002. The film was also released in widescreen in 2008 and then re-released in 2016 and is now available for streaming through Google Play and Amazon Video.
One of the most creative films of the last two centuries was a feature film called Pleasantville, that starred Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, J. T. Walsh, Reese Witherspoon and our man, Don Knott. It was a critically acclaimed and very popular film due to its brilliant premise of a brother and his sister getting trapped inside a fictional black-and-white TV show town in Iowa, as they add their “humanity” to the town and it gradually becomes colorful. It was a wonderful homage to an era just recently over, with films transitioning from traditional black and white to more engaging color films starting from the ’40s and up to the late ’60s.
Pleasantville was an absolute winner with the critics and got itself three Academy Award nominations and raving reviews. Don Knotts made a cameo in the film as the mysterious TV repairman who causes the two siblings to get transported into the black-and-white town of Pleasantville in the first place. Quite a fitting role, as the actor truly embodies the transition from the old to the new and lived through it, with one of his shows literally transitioning from black to white and into color in the middle of its long runtime.
Another one of Don Knotts’ attempts at voice-overs occurred in 2000, just six years before he passed away, when he lent his voice to the animated musical comedy film , which put an anthropomorphic spin on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by animating a bunch of animals instead of humans to take the roles of the characters. Many of the film’s voice-overs were done by popular country singers, especially for the lead characters, which made the movie appealing to a wider range of audiences.
Don Knotts’ role was as Mutt Potter, and old and scared dog with big ears, a haircut that looks like a piece of synthetic grass, and sad droopy eyes. The film received mixed reviews from fans, with a 66% score on Rotten Tomatoes by over 1,700 of the site’s users, but got almost no attention from film critiques and largely went unnoticed by them. It was considered a good take on the 1876 novel and a great and humble entry for Don Knotts’ long filmography.
Don Knotts’ final film role prior to his passing was a straight to DVD comedy film titled Air Buddies, which was the 6th entry into the Air Bud film series about a sports-playing Golden Retriever named Buddy and his gang of puppies. The film series is one of the world’s most successful direct-to-DVD franchises and had grossed over $200 million by 2014. This was not only Don Knotts’ last film, as it was also Patrick Cranshaw’s final one, as both passed away just prior to the release of the film.
Air Buddies came out on December 12, 2006, just a few months after the death of the popular actor. He lent his voice to portray Sniffer, an old bloodhound who lost his sense of smell a long time ago. His character later regains his sense of smell after being sprayed by a skunk. He’s one of the protagonists of the movie and serves as a wise and old dog. The film received mixed reviews, scoring a rating of 4.8 out of 10 on the popular film review site IMDB, based on the combined ratings of over 3,000 of its users.
Don Knotts’ popularity peaked around the ’50s and ’60s as he starred in numerous films and TV shows in both leading and supporting roles. He was one of the crowd’s favorites and managed to draw audiences who fell in love with his skits, authenticity and brilliant sense of humor. The actor made a short appearance in 1973 on the popular sitcom Here’s Lucy starring Lucille Ball. The series also starred her boyfriend Gale Gordon and her two children.
Don had an extremely good decade in the ’70s in relation to his acting career, with countless acting opportunities flowing his way after his immense popularity gain in the previous two decades. The actor made many guest appearances on TV shows, and the episode where he appeared in Here’s Lucy ended up becoming the season’s most beloved and most watched one.
Another one of Don Knotts’ popular guest appearances was on the successful show Fantasy Island where he appeared multiple times from 1978 until 1979. This was one of the most popular shows in the ’70s and had numerous guest stars and celebrities making their appearances on the show. It was so popular in its time that the studio tried to revive it fourteen years after the show had ended in 1984.
The revival only made it for one season though.In the episode where Don Knotts appeared, he was set to play the part of a private eye, and discover at the end of the episode that his “suspects” were actually a bunch of actors.
The Love Boat
One of Don Knotts last guest appearances on TV shows was his role in the popular comedy-drama TV show The Love Boat which was set on the luxury passenger cruise ship S.S. Pacific Princess. The show aired from 1977 until early in 1987 and revolves around the ship’s captain and a handful of its crew and passengers. Don Knotts appeared in episode 7 of the show’s third season, he played as a famous TV celebrity disguised as a shoe salesman in an episode that is still considered today one of the better ones of the season.
In the episode, an attractive woman, played by Julie Newmar, tries to put her magic on Don Knotts character. He eventually relents and reveals his true identity to her.
Step by Step
Step by Step was a moderately successful family sitcom TV show that aired for seven seasons from 1991 to 1998. The show featured a very late guest appearance by Don Knotts right on time for Christmas, as he appeared in the 11th episode of the third season as a deputy chief.
This episode was a happy reunion for Don Knotts and Suzanne Somers, who both acted together previously in the popular TV show “Three’s Company”.
The Muppet Show
In what promised to be one of the coolest mashups of popular comic geniuses, Don Knotts joined and helped host the 201st episode of the popular Muppets Show that premiered in late 1977. The Muppets Show was a half-hour variety show featuring the lovely and iconic dolls of Kermit the Frog and the rest of the Muppets, as the group put on various musical and comical events featuring many weekly guest stars.
This was the first episode of the show’s second season, and Don Knotts did an amazing job helping out on many of the sketches such as “Beat of the Week” and the musical closing number, Lullaby of Birdland, in which Don played the bass until it blows up due to the frenetic pace of the song. One of the funniest sketches on the episode was the one where Fozzie couldn’t talk to Knotts because he was wearing pitch-black sunglasses that blocked him from seeing anything. The sketch ended with Don falling off the stage! On that note, our journey into the life and career of Don Knotts also comes to an end! We hope you enjoyed yourself and also learned a thing or two about the beloved actor!