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Don Knotts, TV's lovable nerd, dies at 81


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LOS ANGELES (AP) ? Don Knotts, the skinny, lovable nerd who kept generations of television audiences laughing as bumbling Deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, has died. He was 81.

 

Knotts died Friday night of pulmonary and respiratory complications at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills, said Paul Ward, a spokesman for the cable network TV Land, which airs The Andy Griffith Show, and another Knotts hit, Three's Company.

 

Unspecified health problems had forced him to cancel an appearance in his native Morgantown in August 2005.

 

The West Virginia-born actor's half-century career included seven TV series and more than 25 films, but it was the Griffith show that brought him TV immortality and five Emmies.

 

The show ran from 1960-68, and was in the top 10 of the Nielsen ratings each season, including a No. 1 ranking its final year. It is one of only three series in TV history to bow out at the top: The others are I Love Lucy and Seinfeld. The 249 episodes have appeared frequently in reruns and have spawned a large, active network of fan clubs.

 

As the bug-eyed deputy to Griffith, Knotts carried in his shirt pocket the one bullet he was allowed after shooting himself in the foot. The constant fumbling, a recurring sight gag, was typical of his self-deprecating humor.

 

Knotts, whose shy, soft-spoken manner was unlike his high-strung characters, once said he was most proud of the Fife character and doesn't mind being remembered that way.

 

His favorite episodes, he said, were "The Pickle Story," where Aunt Bee makes pickles no one can eat, and "Barney and the Choir," where no one can stop him from singing.

 

"I can't sing. It makes me sad that I can't sing or dance well enough to be in a musical, but I'm just not talented in that way," he lamented. "It's one of my weaknesses."

 

Knotts appeared on several other television shows. In 1979, he joined the cast of Three's Company, also starring John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt.

 

Early in his TV career, he was one of the original cast members of The Steve Allen Show, the comedy-variety show that ran from 1956-61. He was one of a group of memorable comics backing Allen that included Louis Nye, Tom Poston and Bill "Jose Jimenez" Dana.

 

Knotts' G-rated films were family fun, not box-office blockbusters. In most, he ends up the hero and gets the girl ? a girl who can see through his nervousness to the heart of gold.

 

In the part-animated 1964 film The Incredible Mr. Limpet, Knotts played a meek clerk who turns into a fish after he is rejected by the Navy.

 

When it was announced in 1998 that Jim Carrey would star in a Limpet remake, Knotts responded: "I'm just flattered that someone of Carrey's caliber is remaking something I did. Now, if someone else did Barney Fife, THAT would be different."

 

In the 1967 film The Reluctant Astronaut, co-starring Leslie Nielsen, Knotts' father enrolls his wimpy son ? operator of a Kiddieland rocket ride ? in NASA's space program. Knotts poses as a famous astronaut to the joy of his parents and hometown but is eventually exposed for what he really is, a janitor so terrified of heights he refuses to ride an airplane.

 

In the 1969 film The Love God?, he was a geeky bird-watcher who is duped into becoming publisher of a naughty men's magazine and then becomes a national sex symbol. Eventually, he comes to his senses, leaves the big city and marries the sweet girl next door.

 

He was among an army of comedians from Buster Keaton to Jonathan Winters to liven up the 1963 megacomedy It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Other films include The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966); The Shakiest Gun in the West, (1968); and a few Disney films such as The Apple Dumpling Gang, (1974); Gus, (1976); and Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, (1977).

 

In 1998, he had a key role in the back-to-the-past movie Pleasantville, playing a folksy television repairman whose supercharged remote control sends a teen boy and his sister into a TV sitcom past.

 

Knotts began his show biz career even before he graduated from high school, performing as a ventriloquist at local clubs and churches. He majored in speech at West Virginia University, then took off for the big city.

 

"I went to New York cold. On a $100 bill. Bummed a ride," he recalled in a visit to his hometown of Morgantown, where city officials renamed a street for him in 1998.

 

Within six months, Knotts had taken a job on a radio Western called Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders, playing a wisecracking, know-it-all handyman. He stayed with it for five years, then came his series TV debut on The Steve Allen Show.

 

He married Kay Metz in 1948, the year he graduated from college. The couple had two children before divorcing in 1969. Knotts later married, then divorced Lara Lee Szuchna.

 

In recent years, he said he had no plans to retire, traveling with theater productions and appearing in print and TV ads for Kodiak pressure treated wood.

 

The world laughed at Knotts, but it also laughed with him.

 

He treasured his comedic roles and could point to only one role that wasn't funny, a brief stint on the daytime drama Search for Tomorrow.

 

"That's the only serious thing I've done. I don't miss that," Knotts said.

 

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Edited by Movie Junkie
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Too bad, Don Knotts had a unique way of making comedy happen................... :'( :(
He had perfect timing. I remember some years ago seeing some bloopers of him when he was on The Andy Griffith Show. Even what he did by accident were funnier than what some of the other comedy actors do on purpose. Edited by Movie Junkie
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Most here are probably too young to have seen reruns of The Steve Allen Show. :) I only saw them back when Comedy Central was HA! But, Knotts was fantastic as this man on the street who was in a state on perpetual nervousness. "Excuse me, sir... are you nervous?" "WHO?! Me? N- no..."

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Its too bad, all the good performers whether they be actors, comedians, whatever, are slowly leaving us one by one............ kinda makes you feel sad.................... and a bit older........ :(

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I remember when Jackie Gleason died, I felt really bad about that........... remember watching him at 6PM on sat. nights The Jackie Gleason Show........ particularly the Honeymooners........ Gleason and Art Carney... bloody hillarious. Also when the show first started every night there were these dancers..... forget their names now, but they used to do camera shots from the ceiling looking down on them and some of the designs they did with thier legs were great. :P

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I remember when Jackie Gleason died, I felt really bad about that........... remember watching him at 6PM on sat. nights The Jackie Gleason Show........ particularly the Honeymooners........ Gleason and Art Carney... bloody hillarious. Also when the show first started every night there were these dancers..... forget their names now, but they used to do camera shots from the ceiling looking down on them and some of the designs they did with thier legs were great. :P
WOW! Are you ever bringing back memories. I have every episode of the Honeymooners, including the "Lost Episodes"

 

The dancers were known as The June Taylor Dancers.

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The June Taylor Dancers.............. right on MJ. :thumbup: Couldn't remember their name for the life of me. That was great show....... a bus driver and a sewer worker.............. who woulda thought........ :lol: . check PM.

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The Jackie Gleason Show........ particularly the Honeymooners........ Gleason and Art Carney...

WOW! Are you ever bringing back memories. I have every episode of the Honeymooners, including the "Lost Episodes"

 

 

Including The Love Letter, the lost episode that wasn't recovered until 2004 and reran for the first time in 40 years on TV Land? :)

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The Jackie Gleason Show........ particularly the Honeymooners........ Gleason and Art Carney...

WOW! Are you ever bringing back memories. I have every episode of the Honeymooners, including the "Lost Episodes"

 

 

Including The Love Letter, the lost episode that wasn't recovered until 2004 and reran for the first time in 40 years on TV Land? :)

That is the only one I don't have. In fact until you mentioned it I couldn't remember the name of the episode. I'm going to find out if it is for sale anywhere.
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It was said it was going to be released on DVD after TV Land aired it. I taped it when TV Land aired it. :D (In fact, the Honeymooners entry for this episode on TV.com is mine from TVTome.com. :lol:) MPI had intended to include this episode in a new, repackaged "Lost Episodes" DVD boxed set sometime last year or this.

 

 

Funny, I was in a used records, etc. store on Thursday and the one thing I immediately noticed on the wall was a record released by Jackie Gleason.

 

 

Also, remember, that there is an existing episode already called The Love Letter, remade 2 years after the original version.

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It was said it was going to be released on DVD after TV Land aired it. I taped it when TV Land aired it. :D (In fact, the Honeymooners entry for this episode on TV.com is mine from TVTome.com. :lol:) MPI had intended to include this episode in a new, repackaged "Lost Episodes" DVD boxed set sometime last year or this.
I haven't check yet. Hopefully I'll remember before I shut the computer down tonight.

 

Funny, I was in a used records, etc. store on Thursday and the one thing I immediately noticed on the wall was a record released by Jackie Gleason.
I remember Gleason having a band back in the 1950's. I don't know the name of it though.

 

Also, remember, that there is an existing episode already called The Love Letter, remade 2 years after the original version.
That was, if memory serves me correctly, part of the "Classic 39" episodes. I know I have that one.
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  • 7 months later...

R.IP. Don Knotts

 

Gleason was such a good pool player he did most if not all his own shots in " The Hustler " a great movie if you like to play pool Paul Newman was in it also

 

its a tribute that most of the old comedians produced great comedy without cursing ,sex ,T and A and all the other stuff prevelant in todays comedy Red Skelton also a master

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