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Don Knotts: Playing it for Laughs

AP Photo / Reed Saxon

Don Knotts: Playing it for Laughs

Don Knotts was a natural comedian – his expressive face, unique look and great sense of timing combined to make him one of the funniest men on television in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.

His big break came in 1960 when he was offered the chance to play the role that would make him famous and remain his best-known persona: Deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. The show's creators originally intended Sheriff Andy Taylor, played by Andy Griffith, to be the show's source of humor, with Knotts as Fife playing the straight man … but it soon became evident that Knotts was better suited for comic relief.

Knotts played Barney Fife for laughs for the next five years before moving on to movie roles. He had proven with Fife that he was a whiz at playing high-strung characters, and he continued to do so in many of the movies he made in the '60s and '70s.

TV eventually wooed Knotts back, and he was cast as goofy lothario Mr. Furley on Three's Company. For a generation slightly younger than those who grew up with The Andy Griffith Show, this was the essential Don Knotts – the nosy, often confused, and always hilarious landlord.

When Knotts died Feb. 24, 2008, he was remembered with the respect a man of his stature in the comedy world deserved. He perfected his over-the-top, overly anxious persona, and he's influenced countless comedians who came after him.