Don Knotts was not Barney Fife. The talented comedian was certainly known best by the role of Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, which he played brilliantly, but he had a long career beyond the bumbling deputy. It is hard to separate such characters from the actor, as they often become a part of our own lives. Not only have generations grown up with the people of Mayberry, the younger set is lucky to have re-runs to enjoy. The characters we know and love continue to stay young and alive through the magic of television.
Knotts is just one of our all time favorite actors, largely due to playing the role of Barney Fife. He appeared in almost every episode as sheriff Andy Taylor’s side-kick. He was a lovable kind of guy for his inane antics and so called helpfulness. The show experienced huge success from the undeniable chemistry between Knotts and Griffith. They remained close friends until Knotts’ passing in 2006, at age 81, from lung cancer. Andy Griffith passed away in July of 2012 at age 86. The whole cast of The Andy Griffith Show, including Ron Howard, Frances Bavier, George Lindsey and Jim Nabors, became like extended family to many in the 60’s.
Knotts was born and raised in Morgantown, West Virginia. Growing up in a troubled family, he left for the Army soon after high school. He found his talent while being involved with the special services and entertaining troops. He returned to West Virginia University and later embarked in several short gigs and plays in New York.
Knotts was Griffith’s top choice to play deputy Barney Fife in the show based on Griffith’s hometown, Mt. Airy, NC. He won five Emmy Awards for his remarkable and believable work in the series. Knotts was playing a part and he was good at it. He was not Barney Fife in his personal life. Although Knotts was somewhat stereo-typed as a nervous, fidgety character, he went on to do many other projects in his acting career beyond the role of Fife.
Leaning mostly towards comedies, he banked many movies including The Reluntant Astronaut, The Incredible Mr. Limpet and The Apple Dumpling Gang. Knotts was also known for his role as landlord Mr. (Ralph) Furley on Three’s Company in 1977. His final film was Chicken Little in 2005, in which he did the voice of Mayor Turkey Lurkey.
Knotts was not just Barney Fife, he was many characters. He was an actor, a comedian a husband, a father and a friend. For that, he will be remembered. Several years ago, plans for a Barney Fife statue were made in Mt. Airy. The project was prevented from being completed by Knotts’ wife, Francey Yarborough Knotts. She wanted her husband to be remembered for more than the zany deputy. Knotts had previously been honored by a star on the Hollywood walk of fame about a year before his death.
Since then, fund raising efforts in his hometown of Morgantown have been going on with the goal of $50,000. Recently, a final donation of $5,000 by The Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitors Bureau put them over their goal with the statue being completed in the near future. It will depict Knotts as a middle aged man, sitting and reading a script.
Many tributes to Knotts’ character Barney Fife already exist, especially in the town of Mt. Airy. Along with many shops selling all types of merchandise, Fife’s famous tweed suit is on display at the Andy Griffith Museum. Memorabilia from the show brings back fond memories as patrons also can view an existing statue of Andy and Opie.
Just in time for what would have been Knotts’ 90th birthday this year, his hometown is finally set to honor him properly as the keen actor that he was. Don Knotts was not Barney Fife, but he will always be remembered for bringing that special character to life and into our living rooms.
By: Roanne FitzGibbon