Do you remember Barney Fife? What about Ralph Furley? Surely, you know about Mayor Turkey Lurkey! Of course, the genius behind these great characters was Don Knotts.
Don Knotts is a versatile performer who’s now remembered as one of the great comedic entertainers. He’s arguably one of the greatest icons of American television.
But what was his early life like? His childhood consisted of many struggles, and it wasn’t easy to begin his career in show business. However, these struggles didn’t stop him from persevering in his career and living a great life.
His daughter Karen, who has also worked in show business, has recently written a book about her father’s life and career.
She discusses what Don Knotts did on his deathbed. Let’s see what happened, according to his daughter…
WHAT DON KNOTTS DID ON HIS DEATHBED
We sadly lost Don Knotts on February 24, 2006, in Los Angeles. He was 81 years old and had died from complications due to lung cancer complicated by pneumonia.
This description may leave a sad picture for fans of Don Knotts. But even in his last moments, Don Knotts was doing what he did best – making others laugh!
He cracked jokes and did things that made everyone laugh – even as he was suffering from illness. In fact, his comic “performance” during his final moments was so great that his daughter Karen had to leave the room as she couldn’t control her laughter!
That was Don Knotts for you! He dedicated his life to making others laugh. While he’s no longer with us, we are lucky that we can entertain him because of the incredible body of work that he left behind.
But how did he get started? What made Don Knotts decide to pursue a career in show business? When did he realize that he had a knack for making others laugh?
Well, it looks like we’ll have to go back to the beginning…
Before we tell you more about Don Knotts’ incredible life and career, please like this video and subscribe to Facts Verse for more current entertainment news and other interesting stories. Now, back to the video…
Don Knotts was born Jesse Donald Knotts on July 21, 1924, in Morgantown, West Virginia. His childhood wasn’t always the easiest. He was the youngest of four boys. His mother was 40 when Don was born, and it was during a time when the family was struggling. His father suffered from mental illness, – which took a serious toll on the Knotts family.
The father, William, was also an alcoholic and would sometimes attack young Don with a knife while in a drunken stupor. His father died when Don was 13, and his mother struggled to raise four boys on her own.
These harrowing experiences caused Don to become shy and introverted for much of his youth. Yet, there was also something bubbling inside him. He had the desire to entertain others. In fact, he didn’t just want to entertain others – but he wanted to make others laugh.
One can speculate that his harrowing childhood made him want to bring more happiness to the world. He was determined to pursue a career in show business.
He began performing during his teens at school functions and at his church. Here, he honed his craft and made a great impression on others. These teenage performances made him realize that he could one day bring his talents to a wider audience.
THE MILITARY AND DON’s EARLY CAREER
Don graduated from Morgantown High School and then enlisted in the United States Armed Forces during the Second World War. However, in the military, he didn’t serve to fight! He was tasked with entertaining the troops.
Here he continued to perform as a ventriloquist and comedian as he did during his teens. It was during this time that he realized he had a knack for comedy. He got compliments from other entertainers who told him that he didn’t need a dummy and that he should put ventriloquism aside. He got rid of his dummy and decided he’d solely perform comedy.
Upon returning from his service, he enrolled in West Virginia University. He received a bachelor’s degree in Education and minored in Speech.
Don married Kathryn Metz in 1947 and then moved to New York City to pursue an entertainment career. He began his entertainment career in New York by performing comedy in nightclubs. As his profile grew, he would appear on radio shows, and before long, he made the occasional appearance on a popular TV show.
But while he was getting regular work, he still struggled to become a household name. The competition was fierce, and Don needed to stand out from the crowd. He persevered, and he soon created a few memorable characters in radio and television.
His best-known roles from his early career included Windy Wales from the radio series Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B-Riders. He also had a recurring role in the popular soap opera Search for Tomorrow. He then became a regular on the popular variety show The Steve Allen Show.
But his most famous role was just around the corner…
MEET BARNEY FIFE
In 1960, Don Knotts landed the role of Barney Fife in The Andy Griffith Show – a new sitcom starring Andy Griffith, who had become a popular TV actor. This was the show that made Don Knotts a star!
Barney Fife was the lovable and goofy police officer who helped Sheriff Andy Taylor keep the peace in their sleepy town of Mayberry. He played the character throughout the series, and his performance garnered him five Emmy awards for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Comedy.
One thing that even hardcore fans of the show may not know is that originally Andy Taylor was supposed to be the funny man while Barney Fife would play the straight man. But the duo soon realized that Don had comedic talent that had to be shared with the world.
Barney Fife is remembered as one of the great comic characters of American television. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Don Knotts playing the role. And while Barney Fife was a supporting character, it’s safe to say that he’s one of the main highlights of the show.
Don Knotts loved playing Barney Fife and was happy to discuss the character whenever he gave an interview or had an appearance on a talk show. However, he also wanted to avoid getting typecast. He eventually left the show so that he could pursue other roles in television – which was the medium that gave him the best outlet for his talents.
Nevertheless, he always looked back fondly on his role in The Andy Griffith Show. It was the role that made him a star and helped launch the rest of his career!
So how was Don Knotts’ career after he left The Andy Griffith Show? He began regularly acting in feature films. These included roles in films such as No Deposit, No Return, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo. The Prize Fighter and The Incredible Mr. Limpet.
He occasionally made cameo appearances in later seasons of The Andy Griffith Show. He teamed up with Andy Griffith once again to play Les Calhoun on Griffith’s popular legal drama show, Matlock.
During these later years, he became a staple for many great comedy films. He appeared in five films produced by Universal Studios: The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Reluctant Astronaut, The Shakiest Gun in the West, The Love God, and How to Frame a Figg.
He voiced a role – quite similar to his real-life personality – in two episodes of The New Scooby-Doo Movies.
At the end of the 1970s, he created another popular role that audiences still remember him by. This was as the goofy landlord Ralph Furley in the sitcom Three’s Company. He even starred in a short-lived variety show of his own called The Don Knotts Show.
In the 1990s and 2000s, his career slowed down – partially due to his health. He had a cameo role in the 1996 film Big Bully. He also had an important role in the 1998 film Pleasantville.
In the 2000s, he voiced the role of Mayor Turkey Lurkey in the film Chicken Little. He also had a cameo appearence in the sitcom 8 Simple Rules and another one in That 70s Show.
His final film role was in the direct-to-video film Air Buddies – a sequel to the popular film Air Bud.
After he passed away, many prominent figures in show business paid their respects to him. Many comic performers still cite Don Knotts as their inspiration. There’s even a statue commemorating him in his hometown of Morgantown, West Virginia.
ACCORDING TO HIS DAUGHTER
Don’s daughter Karen is also an actress in her own right. She’s published a book called Tied Up In Knotts – about her relationship with her father and his incredible life story. She’s even performed a few live shows where she discusses the book and her relationship with her father.
Many diehard fans of Don Knotts want to know more about his amazing life and career. Through this book, Karen hopes to answer questions from lifelong fans. One can also hope a new generation will discover Don Knotts through this book and through reruns of his TV shows and his films.
His was a life to learn from. While he’s no longer with us, Don Knotts left behind a body of work that can entertain us to this day. We expect that decades from now, we’ll still be laughing at his quirky characters and that we’ll admire his impeccable comic timing.
After all, even when he was on his deathbed – he was still focused on making others laugh!
Are you a fan of Don Knotts?
Do you think he’s gotten his due as one of America’s greatest character actors? Or do you think that his life and legacy needs to be introduced to a new generation?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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