Classic television and movie actor Don Knotts, who is most well-known for having played hapless sheriff’s deputy Barney Fife on the 1960s-era sitcom The Andy Griffith Show, was born in Morgantown, West Virginia in July of 1924. In celebration of his birthday and his extraordinary creative achievements, Morgantown is hosting a Don Knotts Celebration Weekend, and according to West Virginia Metro News, a statue of Knotts was unveiled on Saturday, July 23. Fundraising for the statue began in 2006.
Don Knotts inspired legions of fans to come out to the unveiling of the statue by Karen Knotts, the actor’s daughter, who is also a comedic actor. Two Barney Fife impersonators were part of the festivities, reminding guests just how memorable Knotts was in the sidekick role alongside comic actor and musician Andy Griffith (as the fictional Mayberry, North Carolina’s Sheriff Andy Taylor) on a sitcom that continues to appeal to new, younger audiences through decades in syndication.
The Don Knotts statue depicts the actor holding the deputy’s hat that he wore on The Andy Griffith Show. Knotts was known for movies as well, but started his career as a ventriloquist and moved on to a prominent role on Steve Allen’s Tonight Show in the 1950s before becoming Barney Fife, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications.
Don Knotts went on to become a successful comedic character actor in classic Hollywood movies such as The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964), The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), and The Reluctant Astronaut (1967). He made many guest appearances on television — some as Barney Fife on later incarnations of The Andy Griffith Show like Mayberry R.F.D. — and then started making successful comedy movies for children with Tim Conway of The Carol Burnett Show fame in the 1970s.
Don Knotts, a graduate of Morgantown High School and West Virginia University, was lauded by his fellow West Virginians as a down-to-earth and fundamentally decent man who seemed “very normal.”
“I am a very big fan of Barney Fife for a long, long, long time. I watch him every night on TV. It’s just exciting that Morgantown can be part of this.”
“I actually waited on him one time at the Wilkins Motors down on University Avenue. One day he came in. He came to my window and I waited on him.”
“We would drive along University Avenue and we knew [the boarding house in which Don Knotts grew up was] where his mother still lived. So it was always like a big deal for us to see that she was still living. Then, you’d go home and watch Andy Griffith and see him on TV.”
Don Knotts’s fans from all over the United States turned out to watch Karen Knotts unveil the image of her beloved father in bronze statue form. Karen Knotts told fans and the press that her father was nervous by nature, much like his famous characters. The sculptor of the bronze statue, Jamie Lester, said that he hoped the statue would prompt questions about Don Knotts and his work from young people.
“Public art makes a huge difference in the community because it connects us with our past and it connects us with our future; I believe, because the young people in the community see the statues and have questions about them.”
Don Knotts won five Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the year 2000 and died of lung cancer in February 2006. He is survived by his widow, Frances Yarborough, his aforementioned daughter Karen Knotts, and son Thomas Knotts (both from a previous marriage). Part of University Avenue in Morgantown, West Virginia is now Don Knotts Boulevard. Knotts would have been 92 years old on Thursday.
[Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images]