DON KNOTTS Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: Jesse Donald Knotts                                                                       
Born: 21 July 1924 Morgantown, West Virginia                                                   
Died: 24 February 2006 Los Angeles, California                                                 
Jesse Donald Knotts (July 21, 1924 – February 24, 2006) was an American comedic               
actor best known for his portrayal of Barney Fife on the 1960s television sitcom               
The Andy Griffith Show (a role which earned him five Emmy Awards), and as                       
landlord Ralph Furley on the television sitcom Three’s Company in the 1980s. He               
also starred in over a dozen comedy films. Knotts was also featured in Air                     
Buddies as the voice of Deputy Sniffer.                                                         
Knotts was born in the university town of Morgantown, West Virginia, to William                 
Jesse Knotts and his wife, Elsie L. Moore. His father’s family had been in the               
United States since the 17th century, originally settling in Queen Anne’s County,             
Maryland. His father had been a farmer, but suffered a nervous breakdown and                   
lost his farm. The family (including Don’s two brothers) was supported by Don’s             
mother, who ran a boarding house in town. Knotts’ father suffered from                       
schizophrenia and alcoholism and died when Don was 13 years old. Some time                     
later, Knotts graduated from Morgantown High School.                                           
At 19, Knotts joined the Army and served in World War II as part of a traveling                 
GI variety show and as a nurse. He did not serve in the Marine Corps as a drill                 
instructor, as has been the subject of a popular urban legend. After the war,                   
Knotts graduated from West Virginia University in 1948.                                         
After performing various roles and venues (including a ventriloquist act with a                 
dummy named Hooch Matador), Knotts got his first major break on television in                   
the soap opera Search for Tomorrow where he appeared from 1953 to 1955. However,               
he gained greater fame in 1956 on Steve Allen’s variety show, appearing as part               
of Allen’s comedic repertory company, most notably in Allen’s mock “Man in the           
Street” interviews, always as a man obviously very nervous and breathing heavily             
about being on camera. The humor in the interviews would be increased when                     
Knotts stated his occupation- always one that wouldn’t be appropriate for such a             
nervous, shaking person, such as a surgeon or explosives expert.                               
In 1958, Knotts appeared in the movie No Time for Sergeants alongside Andy                     
Griffith. The movie, based on the play and book of the same name, began a                       
professional and personal relationship between Knotts and Griffith that would                   
last for decades.                                                                               
In 1960, when Griffith was offered the opportunity to headline in his own                       
television sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968), Knotts took the role of                 
Barney Fife, the deputy and cousin of Sheriff Andy Taylor.                                     
Knotts’ five seasons portraying the deputy on the popular show would earn him                 
five Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Comedy.                             
A summary of the show from the website of the Museum of Broadcast Communications               
describes Deputy Barney Fife: “Self-important, romantic, and nearly always wrong,             
Barney dreamed of the day he could use the one bullet (which he kept in his                     
shirt pocket) Andy had allowed him to be issued. While Barney was forever                       
frustrated that Mayberry was too small for the delusional ideas he had of                       
himself, viewers got the sense that he couldn’t have survived anywhere else. Don             
Knotts played the comic and pathetic sides of the character with equal aplomb                   
and aploom.”                                                                                 
When the show first aired, Andy Griffith was intended to be the comedic lead                   
with Don Knotts as his “foil”, or straight man. But, it was quickly found that             
the show was funnier the other way around. As Griffith maintained in several                   
interviews, "By the second episode, I knew that Don should be funny, and I                     
should play straight". The years during which the two worked on the show                       
cemented Griffith’s lifelong admiration for Don Knotts and their lifelong                     
Believing earlier remarks made by Griffith, that The Andy Griffith Show would                   
soon be ending after five seasons, Knotts began to look for other work, and                     
signed a five film contract with Universal Studios. He was caught off guard when               
Griffith announced he would be continuing with the show after all, but Knotts’               
hands were tied. Knotts left the series in 1965. (Within the series, it was                     
announced that Deputy Fife had finally made the “big time”, and had joined the             
Raleigh, NC, police force.)                                                                     
Knotts went on to star in a series of film comedies which drew on his high-strung               
persona from the TV series: The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964), The Ghost and Mr.                 
Chicken (1966), The Reluctant Astronaut (1967), The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968),           
The Love God? (1969) and How to Frame a Figg (1971). Knotts would, however,                     
return to the role of Barney Fife several times in the 1960s: he made five more                 
guest appearances on The Andy Griffith Show (gaining him another two Emmys), and               
later appeared once more on the spin-off Mayberry RFD, where he was present as                 
best man for the marriage of Andy Taylor and his longtime love, Helen Crump.                   
After making How to Frame a Figg, Knotts’ 5-film contract with Universal came to             
an end. He continued to work steadily, though he did not appear as a regular on                 
any successful television series until his appearance on Three's Company in 1979.               
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Knotts served as the spokesman for Dodge                     
trucks and was featured prominently in a series of print ads and dealer                         
brochures. On television, he went on to host an odd-variety show/sitcom hybrid                 
on NBC, The Don Knotts Show, which aired Tuesdays during the fall of 1970, but                 
the series was low-rated and short-lived. He also made frequent guest                           
appearances on other shows such as The Bill Cosby Show and Here’s Lucy. In 1970,             
he would also make yet another appearance as Barney Fife, in the pilot of The                   
New Andy Griffith Show. (This was particularly odd, as Andy Griffith did not                   
play Sheriff Taylor in this series.) In 1972, Knotts would voice an animated                   
version of himself in two memorable episodes of The New Scooby Doo Movies. He                   
also appeared as Felix Unger in a stage version of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple               
with Art Carney as Oscar Madison.                                                               
Beginning in 1975 Knotts was teamed with Tim Conway in a series of slapstick                   
movies aimed at children, including the 1975 Disney film The Apple Dumpling Gang,               
and its 1979 sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. They also did two                     
independent films, A boxing comedy called The Prize Fighter in 1979, and a                     
comedy/mystery movie in 1981 called The Private Eyes. Between 1975 and 1979,                   
Knotts co-starred in several other Disney movies, including 1976's Gus, 1977's                 
Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, and 1978's Hot Lead and Cold Feet.                                 
In 1979, Knotts returned to series television in his second most identifiable                   
role, landlord Ralph Furley on Three’s Company. The series, which was already an             
established hit, added Knotts to the cast when the original landlords, a married               
couple played by Audra Lindley and Norman Fell, left the show to star in a short-lived         
spin-off series (The Ropers). Though the role of the outlandish, overdressed,                   
nerdy-geeky-buffoon landlord was originally intended to be a minor recurring                   
character, Knotts was so funny and lovable as a character who fantasized that he               
was an incredibly attractive lothario, that the writers greatly expanded his                   
role. On set, Knotts easily ingratiated himself to the already-established cast.               
Knotts remained on the show until it ended in 1984. The Three’s Company script               
supervisor, Carol Summers, went on to be Knotts’ agent--often accompanying him               
to personal appearances.                                                                       
In 1986, Don Knotts reunited with Andy Griffith in the 1986 made-for-television                 
movie Return to Mayberry, where he reprised his role as Barney Fife yet again.                 
In 1989, he joined Griffith in another show, playing a recurring role as pesky                 
neighbor Les Calhoun on Matlock until 1992.                                                     
After his run on Matlock ended in 1992, Knotts’ film and television roles became             
sporadic including appearing in a cameo in the 1996 flop Big Bully as the                       
principal of the main characters' high school. In 1998, Knotts had a small but                 
pivotal role as the mysterious TV repairman in Pleasantville. That year, his                   
home town of Morgantown, West Virginia, changed the name of the street formerly                 
known as South University Ave (US 119, SR 73) to “Don Knotts Boulevard” on “Don           
Knotts Day”. Also that day, in a nod to Don’s role as Barney Fife, he was also             
named an honorary Deputy Sheriff with the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department.             
Two years later, Knotts was recognized for his television work with a star on                   
the Hollywood Walk of Fame.                                                                     
Though he continued to act on stage, much of his film and television work after                 
2000 was voice only. In 2002, he would appear again with Scooby-Doo in the video               
game Scooby-Doo: Night of 100 Frights (Knotts also sent up his appearances on                   
that show in various promotions for Cartoon Network and in a parody on Robot                   
Chicken, where he was teamed with Phyllis Diller). In 2003, Knotts teamed up                   
with Tim Conway again to provide voices for the direct-to-video children’s                   
series, Hermie & Friends which would continue until his death. In 2005, he was                 
the voice of Mayor Turkey Lurkey in Chicken Little (2005), his first Disney                     
movie since 1979.                                                                               
On September 12, 2003, Knotts was in Kansas City doing a stage version of On                   
Golden Pond when he received a phone call from John Ritter’s family telling him               
that his ex-Three’s Company's co-star had died of an aortic dissection that day.             
Knotts and the rest of his co-stars attended the funeral four days after Ritter’s             
death. Before Ritter’s death, Knotts appeared with the former one final time in               
a cameo on an episode of the series 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage                       
Daughter. It was an episode that paid homage to the earlier famous TV series.                   
Knotts was the last Three's Company star to work with Ritter.                                   
During this period of time, macular degeneration in both eyes (a disease which                 
first appeared during the 1980s) caused the otherwise robust Don Knotts to                     
become virtually blind, and his live appearances on television were few, and all               
were nostalgic or parodic versions of his iconic characters. In 2005, Knotts                   
parodied his Ralph Furley character while playing a Paul Young variation in a                   
Desperate Housewives sketch on The 3rd Annual TV Land Awards. He would parody                   
that part one final time, in his last live-action television appearance, an                     
episode of That ’70s Show, (“Stone Cold Crazy”). In the show Don played Fez and           
Jackie’s new landlord. Although the landlord was never named, it was obvious to               
Knotts fans that he was none other than Ralph Furley. Knotts' last official film               
project was in the 2006 direct-to-video sequel to Air Bud, Air Buddies, voicing                 
the sheriff's dog/deputy Sniffer. (ironically, the actor playing the sheriff                   
Patrick Crenshaw also died after finishing this film)                                           
Don Knotts died on February 24, 2006, at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles,               
California, at the age of 81 from pulmonary and respiratory complications                       
related to lung cancer. He had been undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical               
Center in recent months, but went home after he reportedly had been getting                     
better. Long-time friend Andy Griffith visited Knotts’ bedside a few hours                   
before he died. His daughter stayed with him until his death.                                   
Knotts’ obituaries began surfacing the Saturday afternoon following his death,               
mostly noting his Barney Fife character. Some cited him as a huge influence on                 
other famous television stars. Musician and fan J.D. Wilkes said this about                     
Knotts: “Only a genius like Knotts could make an anxiety-ridden, passive-aggressive           
Napoleon character like Fife a familiar, welcome friend each week. Without his                 
awesome contributions to television there would’ve been no other over-the-top,               
self-deprecating acts like Conan O’Brien or Chris Farley.”                                 
Knotts is buried at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles.                                     
Since his death, his hometown, Morgantown, West Virginia, has begun working                     
towards the creation of a statue of Knott’s likeness in his honor which will be               
placed in a special memorial park along the river and Don Knotts Boulevard.