On a Monday night in October of 1960, a memorable whistled melody announced the first episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” starring Andy Griffith and Don Knotts. The show also featured other well-known stars, including George Lindsey as “Goober,” but when people think of “The Andy Griffith Show,” they think of Andy and Barney.
That’s why legions of fans of the popular 60’s sitcom as well as fans of Don’s numerous other television and movie roles were hit so hard when it was announced that Don Knotts passed away on Friday, February 24, 2006 of complications from lung cancer. Last August health problems had caused Knotts to cancel an appearance to be honored in his native Morgantown, WV, but he had resumed work since then so his death came as a sad surprise to his large fan base and to his costars.
“He was the best there was, and it was a real compliment to me to be able to work with him,” George Lindsey told me of his time working with Knotts on “The Andy Griffith Show.” “I just worked with him that one year (season 5), and I was in two shows when he came back to Mayberry, and then we were in ‘Return to Mayberry’ together.”
Knotts made three appearances at reunions for “The Andy Griffith Show” in Nashville, and while many other cast members participated, the obvious crowd favorite was always Knotts. I was able to meet Don Knotts at two of the reunions, and my brother and I were soon added to his ardent fan base.
Don appeared shy and humble at receptions and backstage events, but he always gave his all when it was time to perform. Whether it was singing “good ole’ 14A” or pantomiming a baseball pitcher, Don brought his own unique brand of delightfully googly-eyed humor to each show.
George Lindsey shared his memories about performing with Knotts at the various reunion shows. “I always had a good time working with Don. He was special to everybody, but he was a very private person. He was a consummate professional.”
Don was also one of the most gracious autograph signers around. There are countless stories of Don taking time to sign autographs at appearances and staying until the last person had his autograph signed, or Don being stopped on his way somewhere by fans and staying to sign autographs until someone had to literally pry him away.
I first met Don Knotts at a reception at the governor’s mansion in 2001 where a pleasant Don mingled with guests and cast members alike, appearing humble and unsure what all the commotion was about. As cameras zoomed in on him, he just smiled and walked on without saying a word to the disappointment of those looking for a Barney-esque quip. They should have known he was not one for chit chat.
Returning to Nashville for the 2004 Mayberry reunion, Don performed a skit called “Nervous Weatherman” from the old Steve Allen Show and then sang “14A” with a choir. The performance of “14A” brought the house down.
The following day Don signed autographs, and that was when I had my second chance to meet him. I briefly told him how much his career had meant to me, and then he posed with me for a photo. He was gracious as always, but ever diligent about autographs, he went back to signing when the photographer took too long to focus. That’s OK. For me it was a thrill just to have met him twice and to have him autograph my photo of Barney and Thelma Lou.
If laughter is the best medicine, then Barney and his one bullet have done more good for the human condition than all of Emma Brand’s sugar pills.
Go with God, Don Knotts. You will be missed.
The author with Don Knotts in 2004
RELATED ARTICLES & LINKS:
A Tribute to Don Knotts
The Nervous Deputy
West Virginia Honors Don Knotts
Don Knotts to be special guest at Mayberry reunion in Nashville
Interview with the Mayberry Deputy
A Touch of Mayberry Comes to Nashville
Past Mayberry Articles
Go to Christian Activities Mayberry Section
Christian Activities Mayberry Forum
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