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Don Knotts
Don Knotts, who achieved fame in the 1960s as Barney Fife in The Andy Griffith Show, played Ralph Furley in Three's Company'
Personal Information
Birth name: Jesse Donald Knotts
Born: (1924-07-21)21 July 1924
Birthplace: Morgantown, West Virginia
Died 24 February 2006(2006-02-24) (aged 81)
Deathplace: Los Angeles, California (lung cancer)
Career/Family Information
Stand-up comedian, actor
Spouse(s): Kathryn Metz (1947-1967, divorced)
Loralee Czuchna (1974-1983, divorced)
Frances Yarborough (2002-2006, his death)
Children: Karen Knotts (daughter)
Tom Knotts (son)
Character information
Appeared on: Three's Company
Character played: Ralph Furley, 1979-84, Seasons 4-8
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Jesse Donald "Don" Knotts (21 July 1924 – 24 February 2006) played Ralph Furley in Three's Company. A funny, gifted comedic actor, Don is best known for his portrayal of Barney Fife on the 1960s television sitcom The Andy Griffith Show, a role which earned him five Emmy Awards.

In 1996, TV Guide ranked him number 27 on its 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time list.[1]

Early Life

Knotts was born in Morgantown, West Virginia, a son of William Jesse Knotts and his wife, the former Elsie L. Moore. Knotts' paternal ancestors had emigrated from England to America in the 17th century, originally settling in Queen Anne's County, Maryland.[2] Knotts' family life in his early years brought his own to a traumatic start: His father was a farmer, who, due to the burden of a fourth child (Don) being born so late (his mother was 40), had a nervous breakdown, becoming a shell of his former self.

Afflicted with both schizophrenia and alcoholism, he sometimes terrorized his young son with a knife, causing him to draw inwards at an early age. When his father died of pneumonia when Knotts was thirteen years old, he and his three brothers were then raised by their mother, who ran a boarding house in Morgantown.[3][4] Knott's mother Elsie L. Moore-Knotts died in 1969, at age 84. Son William Earl Knotts (1910–1941) preceded her in death in 1941, at age 31. They are buried in the family plot at Beverly Hills Memorial Park, in Morgantown, West Virginia. Knotts is a sixth cousin of Ron Howard, a co-star on The Andy Griffith Show.

An urban legend claims that Knotts had served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II, serving as a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina. In reality, Knotts enlisted in the United States Army after graduating from Morgantown High School and spent most of his service entertaining troops.[5]

The Andy Griffith Show

In 1960 when Griffith was offered the opportunity to headline in his own sitcom The Andy Griffith Show (1960–1968), Knotts took the role of Barney Fife, the deputy—and originally cousin—of Sheriff Andy Taylor (portrayed by Griffith). Knotts' portrayal of the deputy on the popular show would earn him five Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Comedy, winning each of the five seasons he played the character.[6]

When the show first aired, Griffith was intended to be the comedic lead with Knotts as his "foil" or straight man, similar to their roles in No Time for Sergeants. However, it was quickly found that the show was funnier the other way around. As Griffith maintained in several interviews, "By the second episode, I knew that Don should be funny, and I should play straight."[7]

Believing earlier remarks made by Griffith, that The Andy Griffith Show would soon be ending after five seasons, Knotts began to look for other work, and signed a five-film contract with Universal Studios. He was caught off guard when Griffith announced he would be continuing with the show after all, but Knotts' hands were tied (in his autobiography, Knotts admitted that he had not yet signed a contract when Griffith made his decision, but had made up his mind believing that he would not get this chance again). Knotts left the series in 1965. Within the series, it was announced that Deputy Fife had finally made the "big time" and had joined the Raleigh, North Carolina police force.[8]

Post-Mayberry Work

Don would go on to star in a series of film comedies which drew on his high-strung persona from the TV series: he had a cameo appearance in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and starred in The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964), The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), The Reluctant Astronaut (1967), The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968), The Love God? (1969) and How to Frame a Figg (1971). Knotts would, however, return to the role of Barney Fife several times in the 1960s: he made five more guest appearances on The Andy Griffith Show (gaining him another two Emmys), and later appeared once more on the spin-off Mayberry RFD, where he was present as best man for the marriage of Andy Taylor and his longtime love, Helen Crump.

After making How to Frame a Figg, Knotts' five-film contract with Universal came to an end. He continued to work steadily, though he did not appear as a regular on any successful television series until his appearance on Three's Company in 1979. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Knotts served as the spokesman for Dodge trucks and was featured prominently in a series of print ads and dealer brochures. On television, he went on to host an odd-variety show/sitcom hybrid on NBC, The Don Knotts Show, which aired Tuesdays during the fall of 1970, but the series was low-rated and short-lived. He also made frequent guest appearances on other shows such as The Bill Cosby Show and Here's Lucy.

In 1970, he would also make yet another appearance as Barney Fife, in the pilot of The New Andy Griffith Show. In 1972, Knotts would voice an animated version of himself in two memorable episodes of The New Scooby Doo Movies; one being "The Spooky Fog of Juneberry", in which he played a lawman who bore a remarkable resemblance to Barney Fife, and the other being "Guess Who's Knott Coming to Dinner". He also appeared as Felix Unger in a stage version of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple with Art Carney as Oscar Madison.

Beginning in 1975, Knotts was teamed with Tim Conway in a series of slapstick films aimed at children, including the Disney film The Apple Dumpling Gang, and its 1979 sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. They also did two independent films, a boxing comedy called The Prize Fighter in 1979, and a mystery comedy film in 1981 called The Private Eyes. Knotts co-starred in several other Disney films, including 1976's Gus, 1976's No Deposit, No Return, 1977's Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo and 1978's Hot Lead and Cold Feet.

Three's Company

In 1979, Don returned to series television in his second most identifiable role, the wacky-but-lovable landlord Ralph Furley on Three's Company. The series, which was already an established hit, added Knotts to the cast when the original landlords, Helen Roper and her husband Stanley Roper, a married couple played by Audra Lindley and Norman Fell, respectively, left the show to star in their own short-lived spin-off series (The Ropers). Though the role of the outlandish, overdressed, nerdy-geeky-buffoon landlord was originally intended to be a minor recurring character, Knotts was so funny and lovable as a character who fantasized that he was an incredibly attractive lothario, that the writers greatly expanded his role. On set, Knotts easily integrated himself to the already-established cast who were, as John Ritter put it, "so scared" of Knotts because of his star status when he joined the cast. When Suzanne Somers left the show after a contract dispute in 1981, the writers started giving the material meant for Somers's Crissy to Knotts's Furley. Knotts remained on the show until it ended in 1984. The Three's Company script supervisor, Carol Summers, went on to be Knotts' agent—often accompanying him to personal appearances.

Later Roles

In 1986, Don Knotts reunited with Andy Griffith in the made-for-television film Return to Mayberry, where he reprised his role as Barney Fife yet again. In early 1987, Knotts joined the cast of the first-run syndication comedy What a Country!, playing Principal Bud McPherson for series' remaining thirteen episodes. The sitcom was produced by Martin Ripps and Joseph Staretski, who had previously worked on Three's Company. In 1988, Knotts joined Andy Griffith in another show, playing the recurring role of pesky neighbor Les Calhoun on Matlock until 1992.

After his appearances on Matlock ended in 1992, Knotts' roles became sporadic, including a cameo in the 1996 film Big Bully as the principal of the high school. In 1998, Knotts had a small but pivotal role as a mysterious TV repairman in Pleasantville with Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon. That year, his home town of Morgantown, West Virginia, honored him, by changing the name of the street formerly known as South University Avenue (U.S. Route 119 in West Virginia) to Don Knotts Boulevard on "Don Knotts Day". Also that day, in a nod to Don's role as Barney Fife, he was also named an honorary deputy sheriff with the Monongalia County (WV) Sheriff's Department.

Personal Life

Don was married three times:[9] Kathryn Metz from 1947–1964; Loralee Czuchna from 1974–1983; and Frances Yarborough from 2002 until his death. He had a son, Thomas Knotts and daughter, actress Karen Knotts, from his first marriage. Don Knotts died 24 February 2006, at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California from pulmonary and respiratory complications to Pneumonia related to lung cancer. He had been undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in the months before his death, but had gone home after he reportedly had been feeling better.[10] His long-time friend, Andy Griffith, visited Knotts' bedside just hours before his death. Knotts's wife and daughter stayed with him until he died. He was buried at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles.[11] Knotts' obituaries cited him as a major influence on other entertainers.

His statue stands in Morgantown, West Virginia in a memorial park on Don Knotts Boulevard.[12][13]


  1. TV Guide Guide to TV. Barnes and Noble. 2004. p. 596. ISBN 0-7607-5634-1.
  2. Ancestry of Don Knotts
  3. [1]Template:Dead link
  4. Don Knotts
  5. Snopes re Don Knotts
  6. Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the Silent Era to 1965. 1. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 397. ISBN 1-55783-551-9.
  7. Beck, Ken; Clark, Jim (2000). Mayberry Memories: The Andy Griffith Show Photo Album (40 ed.). Thomas Nelson Inc. p. 6. ISBN 1-55853-830-5.
  8. Beck, Ken; Clark, Jim (2000). The Andy Griffith Show Book (3 ed.). Macmillan. p. 129. ISBN 0-312-26287-6.
  9. IMDB Bio referencing Knott's three marriages
  10. Lokale Nachrichten, Wetter, Entertainment, Wirtschaft, Politik, Sport und Shopping. Retrieved on 2011-12-26.
  11. Don Knotts. Find a Grave. Retrieved on August 30, 2010.
  12. Don Knotts Legacy Fund. The Greater Morgantown Community Trust.
  13. Knotts family gives approval of the Morgantown tribute to Knotts. Lester Sculpture. Retrieved on 2007-11-12.

External Links

Three's Company

Jack Tripper | Janet Wood | Chrissy Snow | Cindy Snow | Terri Alden | Stanley Roper | Helen Roper | Ralph Furley | Larry Dallas | Lana Shields

John Ritter | Joyce DeWitt | Suzanne Somers | Jenilee Harrison | Priscilla Barnes | Norman Fell | Don Knotts | Richard Kline | Ann Wedgeworth
See also:
List of episodes | Behind the Camera
British TV/Spinoff shows:
Man About the House | George and Mildred | Robin's Nest | The Ropers | Three's a Crowd