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.
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.”