Don Knotts is one of my all-time favorite comedians and his character Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show is without a doubt the most beloved character in TV history for me. The first time I went to Hollywood, the only star on the walk of fame I had a picture next to was Knotts. I've been watching and rewatching his characters over and over since I was a kid and didn't really even know how to spell his name. So, when I found out that he’d passed away at the age of 81, it left me kind of stunned and heartsick.
What was strange about the timing is that on Friday night I was at the Circle Cinema midnight movie of The Big Lebowski. After it was over I was out in the lobby talking about various film related topics with my friend Cameron. We started talking about Knotts as Cameron is a big fan as well and he was telling me about Knotts on episodes of Scooby Do that I can’t remember for the life of me. Since we were talking after the film, Knotts was already dead as we talked about him, so maybe we were just "aware" he was gone but not really "knowing" it yet.
Then Saturday afternoon I watched 3 or 4 episodes of Andy Griffith as I just got Season 2 as a birthday gift—I still didn’t know Knotts had passed away. Later in the evening I found out and just couldn’t believe it since I was talking to Cameron and watching some of the old episodes. Weird.
I’ve talked to people over the years about Knotts and unfortunately people get kind of snobby about him, which is a shame. Maybe they see him only connected to the Disney family films he did and he’s not “cool” enough for them?
That’s too bad as Knotts in my opinion was one of the best physical comedians of all time and his Barney Fife character will be watched for decades and decades and decades.
His comic timing is an incredible thing to watch when playing Fife and his influence on other comic actors who use their faces, bodies and speech is seen everywhere. If you don’t think this is true you either haven’t watched Knotts as Fife enough to see how many people have soaked up his mannerisms. His influence ranges everywhere from Michael Richards as Kramer to Jim Carrey to Billy Bob Thornton and on and on.
I truly believe that the Don Knotts’ era of The Andy Griffith Show is the greatest TV comedy EVER. One thing that makes it so special is it isn’t just about jokes jokes jokes. Yes, it’s funny but the humor is attached to something more important: human characters!
The characters on that show have been created by a tremendous amount of love, intelligence and depth. They have a warmth, openness and emotional honesty that perfectly blend together that it will be difficult for any show to create those same elements and duplicate them.
Knotts’ Fife was the bedrock of the show as when he left in 1966 the show went downhill in a hurry. Knotts was nominated for five Emmys and won all five times for Fife. It’s a character that is so perfect that it will truly live on well after I’m buried in a pine box in Eastern Oklahoma.
***Virginia Hefferman writes about Knotts and his life and career in New York Times*** Highly recommended for fellow Knotts fans!