The legendary Don Knotts definitely earned his place in America’s heart. Born Jesse Donald Knotts in 1924, he and his three brothers were part of a West Virginia family that had actually been in America since the 17th century.
A respected comic, ventriloquist, and character actor, Don Knotts spent the early part of his adulthood enlisted in the U.S. Army where he entertained fellow troops.
But most folks later came to know him as bug-eyed, blundering Deputy Barney Fife on the beloved Andy Griffith show, which ran from 1960-1968.
According to daughter Karen Knotts, her father’s impeccable comic timing was especially incredible given his challenging childhood.
She told Closer Weekly that his successful half-century career represented a triumphant victory over an upbringing plagued by his own father’s alcoholism.
Karen explained that her dad eventually sought therapy to work through his painful memories. “He fought a lot of depression and I helped him, or thought I did,” she said, “because I could see how he had this endless loop of thought that would always lead to a downward spiral.”
Evidently, Don’s resilient humor was a vital ingredient in that brave, sustained battle. “Here’s the thing about my dad,” explained Karen, “he had this funniness that was just completely, insanely natural.”
Maybe that’s why, even on his deathbed back in 2006, the elder Knotts kept his family in stitches. Karen confided that at one point, she actually needed to run from the room just so she could laugh out loud.
She realized how this sort of thing might look, after all, given the fact that her 81-year-old parent was clearly succumbing to pulmonary and respiratory complications. “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,’” she said.
It’s just that Don’s inherent knack for cracking people up endured to the very end. “He was literally dying, but he did something or said something that caused my stepmother and me to go into fits of laughter,” explained Karen.
Experiences like this helped convince Karen to relive all these heartfelt memories in a live format others could also enjoy.
Having followed in her father’s footsteps as a character comedian, she developed a sweetly nostalgic comedy revue aptly entitled, “Tied Up In Knotts!”
All across the country, this critically-acclaimed and affectionate show has been paying tribute to Don Knotts’ lasting legacy. And Karen, for her part, has absolutely no regrets — well, except maybe for one.
“I was telling this (deathbed) story to Howard Storm, who’s a director, and he said, ‘You should have stayed and laughed out loud,’” she recalled. “‘That’s what comedians live for!’”
Conceded Karen, “I should have just stood there and blasted out laughing.” The incomparable Don Knotts himself chose to do this in the face of life’s difficult challenges, and it’s a worthy reminder for all of us.
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