- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 25, 2006

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Don Knotts, the skinny, lovable sap who kept generations of television audiences laughing as bumbling Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show,” has died. He was 81.

Mr. Knotts died Friday night of pulmonary and respiratory complications at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills, said Paul Ward, a spokesman for the cable network TV Land, which airs “The Andy Griffith Show” and another Knotts hit, “Three’s Company.”

Unspecified health problems had forced him to cancel an appearance in his native Morgantown, W.Va., in August 2005.

His half-century career included seven TV series and more than 25 films, but the Griffith show brought him TV immortality and five Emmies. The show ran from 1960 to 1968 and was in the top 10 of the Nielsen ratings each season, including a No. 1 ranking its final year.

It is one of only three series in TV history to bow out at the top. The others are “I Love Lucy” and “Seinfeld.” The 249 episodes have appeared frequently in reruns and have spawned a large, active network of fan clubs.

As the bug-eyed deputy to Mr. Griffith, Mr. Knotts carried in his shirt pocket the one bullet he was allowed after shooting himself in the foot. The constant fumbling, a recurring sight gag, was typical of his self-deprecating humor.

Mr. Knotts, whose shy, soft-spoken manner was unlike his high-strung characters, once said he was most proud of the Fife character and didn’t mind being remembered that way. His favorite episodes, he said, were “The Pickle Story,” in which Aunt Bea made pickles no one could eat, and “Barney and the Choir,” in which no one could stop him from singing.

Mr. Knotts appeared on six other television shows. In 1979, he joined “Three’s Company,” playing the would-be swinger landlord to John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt.

Early in his TV career, he was one of the original cast members of “The Steve Allen Show,” the comedy-variety show that ran from 1956 to 1961.

Mr. Knotts’ G-rated films were family fun, not box-office blockbusters. In most, he ended up the hero and got the girl could see through his nervousness to his heart of gold.

Mr. Knotts began his show-business career even before he graduated from high school, performing as a ventriloquist at local clubs and churches. He majored in speech at West Virginia University, then took off for the big city.

“I went to New York cold. On a $100 bill. Bummed a ride,” he recalled in a visit to his hometown of Morgantown, where city officials renamed a street for him in 1998.

Within six months, Mr. Knotts had taken a job on a radio Western called “Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders,” playing a wisecracking, know-it-all handyman. He stayed with it for five years, then he debuted on series TV on “The Steve Allen Show.”

He married Kay Metz in 1948, the year he graduated from college. The couple had two children before they divorced in 1969. Mr. Knotts later married, then divorced, Lara Lee Szuchna.


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