Don Knotts Biography

A look at the life and career of a comedic genius. From his portrayals of Barney Fife to Mr. Limpet, Don Knotts had few equals in the entertainment industry.

Few television actors enjoy a greater fan-base or name recognition than Don Knotts, and most everyone knows of his portrayal of the inept but loveable deputy Barney Fife on the "Andy Griffith Show." From 1960-1965, Knotts gave the world a true "anti-hero," and the world embraced that character. But few know that Don had many other acting triumphs in a career that spanned nearly 60 years.

Jesse Donald Knotts was born on July 21, 1924, in Morgantown, West Virginia. True to most of his television and movie personas, Don was a shy and somewhat introverted child, prone to illness and episodes of depression. He was also bitten by the "acting bug" at an early age, and through this medium, grew in both confidence and self reliance. By the time Don was in high school, he had created a ventriloquist act, with his "dummy partner" Danny.

At the age of 19, with an interest in acting but with no real prospects, Don enlisted in the army. Upon his separation from the service, Don decided to give radio a try, and a year later, he auditioned for a local theater company. In the mid 1950s, Don landed a small but significant role in a Broadway production entitled "No time for Sergeants" with Andy Griffith. In 1958, he raised his sights, auditioned for the movie version of the play, and easily landed the part. The movie proved to be a major "career vehicle" for Andy Griffith, and he cashed in on his success by creating the role of Sheriff Andy Taylor for an upcoming television show. Griffith quickly recruited Don for a regular spot on the program. "The Andy Griffith Show" launched in 1960 and immediately became a hit. Throughout the show's run, Don played an intricate part of the its success and garnered 5 Emmys for his work.

Drawing on a vast reserve of comedic genius, Don parlayed his "supporting actor" status into major stardom. He displayed a true gift for portraying the nervous, hypertensive fall guy, and the motion picture industry was quick to take advantage of the fact. In 1964, Don debuted in his first starring role in a picture called, "The Incredible Mr. Limpet." This was followed by a string of pictures, including "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" (1966), "The Reluctant Astronaut" (1967), "The Shakiest Gun in the West "(1968 remake of a Bob Hope classic), an "adult comedy" feature entitled "The Love God" (1969), and "How to Frame a Figg" (1971). During this run of successful movies, Don was signed by a major television network to host his own variety show. The show aired in 1970 and had a limited run of 24 episodes.

In 1975, Don signed with Disney and made a string of films, including "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo," and a pair of highly successful projects with Tim Conway, entitled "The Apple Dumpling Gang" and "The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides, Again." He teamed with Conway again in two non-Disney films, "The Prize Fighter" and "The Private Eyes." In all, Don made 41 films and elevated the role of the "inept, nervous type" to an art form.

In 1979, Don returned to television with a stint on the ABC sitcom "Three's Company." Again, he played an accident prone, neurotic, "sidekick" character. The show enjoyed a successful run until 1984. It was in 1984 that Don recreated the role of the inept lawman in the movie "Cannonball Run II." In the 1980s, Don teamed again with Andy Griffith in several episodes of "Matlock."

Although Don's storied career was nothing short of incredible, his private life was somewhat less than blessed. Don married the beautiful Kathryn Metz in 1947. The marriage produced two children, Karen and Thomas. Contrary to Don's on-screen image, he was considered somewhat of a ladies' man in Hollywood and was often seen in the company of beautiful starlets at various parties. His marriage to Kathryn ended in divorce in 1964 and people who claimed "inside information" cited Don's flamboyant lifestyle as the primary reason.

Don spent the next few years enjoying his success, both on and off screen and eventually remarried in 1974 to Loralee Czuchna. The marriage lasted 9 years although the reasons for the divorce were allegedly far different this time. It was rumored that Don had become obsessive regarding his health and was prone to debilitating episodes of depression. His number of public appearances also dropped dramatically during this period of his life. Don made a rare public appearance in 2000 at an antique show in his native West Virginia. For several hours, he signed autographs and posed for photos with the crowd. Throughout the afternoon, people stood in line, some as long as two hours, just to get Don's autograph.

© High Speed Ventures 2011