When actor Don Knotts died in February 2006 at age 81 of complications from lung cancer, he left behind an ongoing legacy that influenced comic actors today including Jim Carrey and Martin Short.
The entertainer was known for his portrayal of the panicky, blundering Deputy Barney Fife with the perfectly expressive face on the 1960s comedy The Andy Griffith Show. Years later, he was introduced to a new generation of fans in 1979 as the self-appointed dressed-to-slay ladies’ man Ralph Furley on Three’s Company.
Here’s more on Knotts’ career and net worth at his death.
The Barney Fife actor left ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ in its 5th season
Knotts left the hit show in 1965 because he had been told by Griffith from the start of the series that the comedy would be ending five years in. The second banana actor decided, as he told The Andy Griffith Show author Richard Kelly, to begin “self-protecting” his career and find more work.
The show’s star eventually did decide to continue the series after the fifth season but by the time Knotts was told, he had already signed a multi-year movie contract with Universal.
The rubbery-faced actor earned five Emmy Awards for his outstanding work on the Griffith Show, two of those for his guest appearances in episodes after his departure.
Knotts made appearances on television series in the 1970s including Here’s Lucy, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, and the TV movie Return to Mayberry that reunited the Griffith Show‘s cast in 1986. Also notable was Knotts’ comic relief role on his old friend Griffith’s next hit show Matlock in 1988.
Knotts’ movies broadened his career
After he left the Griffith Show in 1965, Knotts developed his movie career, making the fun-for-all-ages films The Incredible Mr. Limpet, which strikingly presented live action with animation, as well as The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
But the feature film role that caught the attention of many of his fans in 1998 was Pleasantville, in which two siblings become trapped in a 1950s television program.
The film was set in a small town whose residents are wholesome and perfect. Knotts played “a television repairman who had some mystical powers who could get these people into a television show that they had been watching,” the actor told the Television Academy Foundation in 1999.
“We wanted someone who was an icon from the golden age of TV,” Pleasantville director Gary Ross told EW in 1998. “So I sat down with the casting director and we both just talked about how much we worshiped Barney Fife — he was like a deranged pixie.”
Knotts died Feb. 24 in 2006
The Barney Fife actor, who married three times and had two children, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2000.
Once the 2000s rolled around, most of Knotts’ work was providing his voice for children’s programs including the Hermie series and in the animated film Chicken Little. The year before his death, Knotts also made a guest appearance on That ’70s Show.
At his death in 2006, his net worth was estimated at $20 million.
In 2016, Knotts was memorialized with a statue in his hometown of Morgantown, West Virginia.
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