Don Knotts was born in Morgantown, West Virginia, on July 21, 1924. Don was a shy boy. Throughout his childhood he suffered from depression as well as a host of other illnesses. Before he entered high school, he had created a dummy named Danny. He and Danny performed a ventriloquist act at school and church functions. This was his first taste of show business and he loved performing in front of audiences.
Don left home for New York City, where he hoped to start a career as a comedian. His hopes were dashed and he returned to West Virginia to further his education. After the first year, he dropped out to join the United States Army. He was transferred to a special unit, where he entertained the troops during WWII. When the war was over, he returned to West Virginia University where he completed his education.
Don still had the desire to be a comedian. It was his dream and he was determined to see it through. He landed a small role in the Broadway Production, “No Time for Sergeants.” Andy Griffith also appeared in the play. Don later auditioned and was accepted for, a role in the movie by the same name.
Don soon became a regular on Steve Allen’s “Tonight Show,” where he performed his “nervous man” routine. It was a hit with audiences. This role ended in 1960.
After his stint on the “Tonight Show” ended, Don made an appearance on the debut of the “Andy Griffith Show.” In the first segment Don played Griffith’s cousin. That connection was never mentioned again. Don became a regular on the show, playing the part of Barney Fife, Griffith’s hair-brained deputy. The show was a success. Don played the part of Barney Fife until 1965. He won three Emmys for Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role in a series. Guest appearances on Griffith’s show during 1966 and 1967 earned him two more Emmys.
Don left the “Andy Griffith Show” to pursue a career in films. In 1964, he starred in “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.” In 1965, his “Ghost and Mr. Chicken,” wooed audiences everywhere. Don also appeared in “The Reluctant Astronaut,” “The Shakiest Gun in the West,” and “The Love God,” during the late 1960’s. In 1971, “How to Frame A Figg,” hit the movie theaters. When his movie contract expired, Don was signed by NBC Television to host his own variety show. The show ran for only 24 weeks.
After his variety show ended, Don starred in a series of juvenile films. The first was the Disney film, “The Apple Dumpling Gang,” in 1975. His co-star, Tim Conway, was a friend of Don’s. They continued to collaborate for many years. This show was hilarious.
Don returned to television in 1979, to play Mr. Furley, the eccentric landlord on, “Three’s Company,” starring John Ritter. He stayed with the show until it ended in 1984. He then joined forces with Andy Griffith for a special reunion of “The Andy Griffith Show.” “Return to Mayberry,” teamed him once more with Griffith and the now successful producer, Ron Howard. This lead to a role playing an eccentric neighbor on Griffith’s show, “Matlock.”
Though Don had a great career as a comedian, his personal life was somewhat shaky. In 1947, he married Kathryn Metz. The couple had two children, Thomas and Karen. But Don was a lady’s man and the marriage ended in divorce in 1964. He married Loralee Czuchna in 1974. The couple divorced in 1983. It was rumored that Don had become obsessed with his health and was experiencing bouts of deep depression.
Don suffered from hypochondria his entire life. The Biography Channel’s story on Don, which aired on May 27, 2003, said that when he was married in 1947, that his leg was injured while the wedding was taking place. Because he had once experienced a blood clot in his leg, Don wouldn’t go on his honeymoon. He sent his In-Laws instead. Don did suffer from a degenerative eye disease, which was later controlled by surgery. However, the damage that had already been done couldn’t be reversed.
In 1998, Don played in the movie, “Pleasantville.” His role was that of a mysterious TV repairman who leads two children into the realm of 1950’s black and white movies.
Though Don appeared in “Pleasantville,” his public appearances were few and far between. In 2000, he spent several hours signing autographs and posing for photos at an antique show in West Virginia.
In 1999, the usually shy and private Don, published his autobiography. “Barney Fife and Other Characters I Have Known,” is a great read for all Don Knotts fans.