By Jeremiah Marquez: The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Don Knotts, who kept generations of TV audiences laughing as bumbling Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show” and would-be swinger landlord Ralph Furley on “Three’s Company,” has died. He was 81.
Knotts died Friday night of pulmonary and respiratory complications at a Los Angeles hospital, said Paul Ward, a spokesman for the cable network TV Land, which airs his two signature shows.
Griffith, who remained close friends with Knotts, said he had a brilliant comedic mind and wrote some of the show’s best scenes.
“Don was a small man … but everything else about him was large: his mind, his expressions,” Griffith told The Associated Press on Saturday. “Don was special. There’s nobody like him.
“I loved him very much,” Griffith added. “We had a long and wonderful life together.”
Unspecified health problems had forced Knotts to cancel an appearance in his native Morgantown in August.
The West Virginia-born actor’s half-century career included seven TV series and more than 25 films, but it was the Griffith show that brought him TV immortality and five Emmys.
The show ran from 1960-68, 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 Griffith, 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.
Knotts, whose shy, soft-spoken manner was unlike his high-strung characters, once said he was most proud of the Fife character and doesn’t mind being remembered that way.
His favorite episodes, he said, were “The Pickle Story,” where Aunt Bea makes pickles no one can eat, and “Barney and the Choir,” where no one can stop him from singing.
“I can’t sing. It makes me sad that I can’t sing or dance well enough to be in a musical, but I’m just not talented in that way,” he lamented. “It’s one of my weaknesses.”
Knotts appeared on several other television shows. In 1979, he replaced Norman Fell on “Three’s Company,” also starring John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt.
Actor Don Knotts, best known as TV sheriff’s deputy Barney Fife, died on Friday. Area residents remember him with fondness:
“The thing I remember most about Don Knotts was him (as Fife) carrying a pistol around with no bullets. I thought that was a perfect scenario for a deputy sheriff. He was a great guy and a great comedian, and he was funny to watch, and I’m going to miss him.”
— Rep. Brian Moore, 53, R-Clayton
“He was such a good comedian. I’ve heard Andy Griffith talk about him. Andy was supposed to be the star of the show, but Andy put Don out there and the stories centered around Don. He was just funny to look at.”
— Carol Nash, 63, Curry County
“I’ve been watching him for a long time. I have lots of memories. My favorite long-running thing was the “Andy Griffith Show.” He was perfect for that, he was always excellent for whatever story line they were doing.
“He was in the movie, ‘The Reluctant Astronaut,’ and he was excellent in that movie as a comedian. He was such a great actor and always seemed to be such a nice guy.”
— Jerry Nash, 70, Curry County
“‘The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,’ … that’s really funny.”
— Cynthia Sparks, 44, Portales
“I liked him as Barney Fife and (in) movies like ‘The Ghost and Mr. Chicken’ and ‘The Reluctant Astronaut’ and ‘The Shakiest Gun in the West.’ He was great.”
— Rev. Steven Smith, 47, Portales
“Barney just always did such goofy stuff and you just said, ‘Oh my goodness,’ but he was loved by everybody. … That era of TV shows portrayed life as so laid back and easy going. Things always came out well in the end. Maybe they weren’t true to real life, but they gave you a rosy glow of how life could be.”
— Lora Harlan, 58, Clovis school board member
“I think there’s a little bit of Don Knotts in me for sure. He captured the human spirit and made you enjoy the human foibles that we have.
“I was talking with my daughter (on Saturday) and we were wanting to see some Don Knotts movies that we have on video. Probably my favorite Don Knotts movie is “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” where he’s a reporter and spends the night in a haunted house.”
— Gary Mitchell, 58, interim dean at Wayland Baptist University
“I still watch the reruns of the Andy Griffith Show. I thought he was really one of the funniest characters on TV. I got a kick out of him.
“I guess (he was appealing) because his image of himself (as Barney Fife) was so different than the way other people viewed him. He had sort of an inflated image of himself that was pretty amusing.”
— Wendel Sloan, 54, director of media relations at Eastern New Mexico University