Don Knotts had his family in stitches until the very end

When he was around his loved ones, Knotts was even funnier than Barney Fife.

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Nobody Could Make Andy Griffith Laugh like Don Knotts
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Audiences love it when actors are, in real life, similar to the roles they play. For whatever reason, we find it satisfying to learn when our favorite thespians share some of the qualities of the characters they've brought to life. On the flip side, it's jarring to learn about a famously friendly onscreen star is actually a grumpy old curmudgeon. Worse is when we find out that a particularly comical character is revealed to be entirely the work of a writer, and is played by a humorless performer. We much prefer when affable actors play congenial characters. And of course, we all love learning that a hilarious role is played by someone with a great sense of humor offscreen, too.

It should do us all good, then, to learn that Don Knotts was just as funny as his onscreen counterpart, Barney Fife. In an interview with Emmy TV Legends, Knotts had this to say on the topic: "I think it was because I grew up around comedy with my brothers, especially my brother Shadow. I think it just became a part of my whole person. I don’t think I ever did consciously think about it. It just became instinctive. Somebody once told me that timing is something you learn, but I think I learned that by making my family laugh."

Speaking of family, Knotts was able to spread the laughs over multiple generations of loved ones, even through his final days. Surrounded by his wife and his daughter after being hospitalized, he kept the mood light, cracking jokes with his last breaths.

"When he was dying," said daughter Karen Knotts, "he was making us laugh in hysterics. He was literally dying, but he did something or said something that caused my stepmother and I to go into fits of laughter, which is why I ran out. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to be standing there in front of this man, my dearly beloved father, who’s dying, and laughing.'"

Karen proudly shared the anecdote with Closer Weekly in 2020, but it seems like the time that passed in between didn't dull just how funny her father was. She further recalled, "I was telling this story to Howard Storm, who’s a director, and he said, ‘You should have stayed and laughed out loud. That’s what comedians live for!’ He was right; I should have just stood there and blasted out laughing.”

It seems that Don Knotts truly was put on this earth to make people laugh, and his mission stayed with him in his last few days. So was his comedic prowess something he was born with? Or was his humor something he had to find through trial and error?

"Being funny," said Karen Knotts of her father, “was just something so natural. It was a gene or …. well, I don’t know what it was, except that it was just an out-of-control natural funniness.”

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9 Comments

MichaelVegas 11 months ago
Yes you do not want to laugh when you know someone you love is dying, I remember my Mom, in her Hospice bed, she could not walk but she kept trying to get up, and she even with her eyes closed would play a trick on us, she would move to one side and we would move to that side then she would switch as fast as she could to the other side, so we stood on both sides so when she did this and switch and hit one of us already there, she would smile, which made us laugh and she would smile again
obectionoverruled 11 months ago
Don Knotts as the straight laced small town deputy in that crimeless one horse burg and Rodney Dangerfield in stand up or any movie they cast him in were truly THE comedians of our age. The best comedic ensemble by far was the cast of the Jack Benny show - all were hilarious and sounded as authentic on the airwaves or idiot box as real folks thrown together, typically in Jack and Mary’s Beverly Hills manse. Rochester, the gravelly voiced valet and manservant; Dennis Day, an effeminate pipsqueak with an irrepressible Irish tenor voice; the normally besotted Phil Harris, with an ego the size of Southern California; and the huge Don Wilson, a buffoon who Jack perpetually abused over his enormous girth and appetite, we’re all perfectly placed in his shows to help his straight man, set up the joke and stand back humor! Jack’s best role was as the amazed Everyman who’d turn and stare sideways as if what he just heard was the stupidest thing in a hundred years, and he’d turn his right palm toward his cheek in a pose known to all his fans. I think most forms of good humor by actors today are rooted in the styles of Knotts, Dangerfield and the Benny cast. Just my opinion, of course. You?
Runeshaper 12 months ago
Beautiful story, MetV. Thanks for sharing (-:
cperrynaples 12 months ago
For those who don't know, Closer is sorta People for seniors! They interview a lot of older stars or their survivors! This week, Ann Margaret is on the cover! Didn't read it, so I don't know if The Flintstones came up...LOL!
Andybandit 12 months ago
It is nice that Don Knotts was funny in real life. It made his family happy and they had fun together.
RS1515 12 months ago
Barney Fife was a very very funny character.
JHP RS1515 12 months ago
if you had ear plugs
FrankensteinLover 12 months ago
Don Knotts was a Comic Genius, and Reruns after Reruns im still laughing away Today. One of a Kind and wish so bad I could have met him.
Me too. He and Tim Conway made a spectacularly funny pair. I saw several of the films they did together in the 70's and 80's. They were just marvelous!
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