RIP Don Knotts, comic genius

Don Knotts in The Love God?Don Knott’s death Friday at 81 is a great loss, even though Knotts’ real talent will hardly receive its just appreciation amidst the inevitable references to Barney Fife and Mr. Furley. Although the Barney character certainly deserves the accolades it receives, Mr. Furley encapsulates much of the tragedy that dogs brilliant comedians.

Thus Knotts achieved a kind of perfection on the Andy Griffith Show, and amazingly extended it further in a series of movies that Hollywood unfortuately pegged to the children’s market. But those movies, forced like many of the Marx Brothers’ best films into a fundamentally compromised format, allowed Knotts to develop his painfully nervous persona without the shackles of Mayberry’s rigid moral economy. Ultimately even that format was not commercially viable, however. And although Three’s Company’s Mr. Furley may be a beloved character for many, it represents our culture’s ultimate failure to find for Knotts a venue equal to his talent.
Second or third banana to John Ritter or Tim Conway in the Disney movies hardly does him justice, but his plight wasn’t much different from the Marx Brothers and such depressing ventures as The Big Store, or Buster Keaton appearing in beach-party movies, or Steve Martin and his low-grade family fare (most recently The Pink Panther).

You can read the LA Times’ obituary here. (Forgive the registration requirement, please.) Or my own appreciation of Don Knotts from 1990.

4 thoughts on “RIP Don Knotts, comic genius

  1. michael James Chisum says:

    Don Knotts
    Will Be Miss For A Long Time To Come
    But Barney Fife Heart For Long Time To Come.

  2. Don Hatfield says:

    One Sunday morning about 1992 I was getting ready for church and I heard my son, 6 at the time, laughing so hard I thought he was being tickled by his sister. I went into our living room and he was in the floor in front of our TV, and flashing before him was Don Knotts on an episode of Steve Allen’s fifties-era show. Don Knotts was being interviewed by Allen in a classic sketch, and between Knotts’ jittery character and Allen’s typical cackling he always had trouble containing, my son was about to suffocate from laughter. We were taping the episode on Comedy Central (along with Spike Jones and Your Show of Shows, my wife told me later) and it turns out Andrew, my son, had been enthralled by this little thin man and had yet to watch an episode of “Andy Griffith”

    It caused an interesting flashback for me of a Sunday morning when I was almost the same age as my son. My dad and I drove to the airport in nearby Charleston, WV to pick up someone he described as a “friend of the family” who had attended college with an older cousin my father was in business with at the time. It turned out to be the high-strung deputy Fife I was learning to appreciate on TV with my folks. I still recall what a thrill I had even at that age, and was fascinated by his conversations with my dad as they drove to a local golf course to meet our cousin and some friends Knotts was playing golf with that day.

    Your estimation of Don Knotts’ fate at the hands of Hollywood is spot on. It’s not unusual that he is high on my list with the Marx Brothers as favorites, and I agree with the estimation that he was not accorded the platform to really entertain the world as he might have. My son has since learned about the family connection, and our few taped episodes of Don Knotts and Steve Allen are cherished gems.

    Thanks, Don Knotts, for many laughs and much joy.

  3. Jennifer Cox says:

    I loved Don Knotts in The incredible Mr. Limpett and all the others he played in but this was my very favoret. I remember watching this with my mother and just laughing and crying when he fell into the water. He will be missed.

  4. marlene pohl says:

    o.k. It’s the end of the Roman Calendar Year, kind of belated memorium for poor “Don”, as our son calls him. He’s taken to calling many celebrities by their first name, as if of course that’s how they’re known, until we persuade him to give us a surname reference.Please. He’ll look at us as if how could we be thinking of any other “Don” in that context. Yes, indeed. Don has made himself a presence in our son’s life. Which is pretty incredible since he’s the son of a super-saturated media soaker. Don will get his due through time, he’s still breaking through to the kids. Gud rest Don.

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