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Everyone seems to remember Don Knotts for his interesting characters and high pitched voice. However, the late comedy legend somehow kept his personal life quite private, and certain things were only revealed after his death in 2006. Read on to find out what you don't know about the man.
Born on July 21, 1924, Jesse Donald Knotts was the youngest son of the family. His father was suffering from mental illness when Don was born. Afflicted with schizophrenia and alcoholism, his father would sometimes threaten him with a knife. If there was one thing the unusual childhood had taught him, it was to look inwards to feel protected.
Although you may expect Hollywood celebrities to have normal jobs before gaining fame, you probably wouldn’t have expected Don to once be a chicken plucker. Who would have thought a man who pulled out feathers from dead birds would turn out to be the one putting smiles on people's faces years later?
Don started his career in comedy with ventriloquism like many other comedians. After working with his wooden dummy buddy Danny for years, Don eventually decided it wasn't what he wanted. He ditched the doll and joked about how it was "missing in action."
You may not know that Don Knotts actually served in the military for a few years. Far from being an intimidating soldier, he provided entertainment for the troops in a variety act called Stars and Gripes.
After his military service, Don did his first major acting gig in the TV soap opera Search for Tomorrow from 1953 to 1955. Later on, Don found his passion for comedy after having such a major role in a soap opera. However, it was not until in 1965 that Don became famous on Steve Allen's variety show.
As Don was gradually gaining recognition, he got the legendary role of Barney Fife in the Andy Griffith Show. What people don't know was that he could have been fired any point after the first episode. Incredibly he was shooting without a signed contract! Fortunately, he kept his place with other incredible talents.
Griffith told all the cast that he only planned for the show to run for 5 seasons, and they all signed for 5 years. However, when the 5th season started shooting, Don had already found another gig, and that’s why there was no Barney Fife in that season. He later agreed to come back for season 6.
If you have watched the show, you'd know that Barney was never trusted to carry more than one bullet in his gun. Fans felt so bad for him and actually sent Don Knotts real bullets. It was a gesture of endearment but also received criticism.
In the entire series, "The Pickle Story" episode was voted the No.1 fans favorite. Barney and Andy were forced to eat as many pickles as possible because they didn't want to tell Aunt Bee the truth that they were so bad. Don later expressed it was so much fun filming that episode.
When shooting the show, Andy Griffith also was impressed by Don's ability and an amazing sense of humor. Griffith respected Don so much that he even let him outshine himself. Since the start of the show, the two bonded and started a strong friendship.
With such mutual appreciation, Don and Griffith became best buddies in real life. Their long-lasting friendship started in the '50s and kept until the last moment of Don's life. It was so rare to see such good friends on and off set in the industry.
After 5 years of dedication, Don left the show that made him who he was. However, his performance in the show had further influence on his later roles. One of his biggest roles afterwards was Luther Heggs in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, which was actually inspired by the episode "Haunted House" on The Andy Griffith Show.
Don certainly made a great impression in the 1964 movie The Incredible Mr. Limpet. The film had the world's first underwater movie premiere. With a relatively weird plot, the animated film was well received with audiences.
There is no doubt that Knotts' look added something more to his sense of humor. After starring as Barney Fife, he was recognized for his expressive face, infamous police uniform, and iconic straw hat and coat. There are so many roles he played wearing the same kind of suit, including Mr. Limpet.
Although Don didn't have many "sexy" roles, he was actually very popular with ladies off-screen. Who could say no to a good sense of humor? His daughter Karen joked about it, "Dad was kind of wild. He was really quite the ladies' man, especially between marriages."
Don's marriages didn't last too long. He was married to Kathryn for 17 years, and Loralee Czuchna for 9 years. His third marriage with Frances Yarborough lasted until his death in 2006, which was even shorter. Despite being married several times, Don was a married man for most of his life.
Don Knotts was talented enough to achieve something special in the comedy world. To go better with the flow, he learned modern humor and succeeded in making an impression with younger audiences. In the comedy-drama film Pleasantville, he portrayed a repairman, a role that almost went to another comedy legend, Dick Van Dyke.
Even with a famous role in Pleasantville, Don Knotts had times when his part was dubbed by a professional impersonator called Craig Shoemaker. Since the legend was getting too old and less mobile, a professional dubber imitated his unique voice and style to get the shoot done.
Knotts and Griffith were lifetime friends. After struggling with hypochondria, macular degeneration, and lung cancer, Don passed away with his best friend by his side. “I told him I loved him, and I held his hand,” Griffith later told the public.
The comedy legend died of a respiratory complication due to pneumonia after struggling with lung cancer. He was 81. 5 years later, his gravestone was replaced by a bronze plaque with a list of his works. Another 5 years later, his statue was unveiled in front of the Metropolitan Theater in West Virginia, where he was born and raised.
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