One of the most important acting opportunities in Don Knotts’s life was his role as Barney Fife, the deputy and cousin of Sheriff Andy Taylor (portrayed by Andy Griffith). His role in the popular show landed him five Emmy Awards for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Comedy. Don was initially disappointed for being put in the show as comedic relief rather than a serious character but was still happy to get a chance to work on the show.
Unfortunately, the popular actor signed a contract in 1965 with Universal Studios which made him unavailable for further appearances on the show, since he was under the impression that the show was over. The Andy Griffith show ended up running for a few more years, and Knotts later commented that he deeply regretted having to leave the show.
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken
Another famous appearance by the legendary Don Knotts was the 1966 black and white film “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken”. Perhaps its name might make you think that it was somehow related to the actor’s past profession as a chicken plucker, but the film was actually a romantic comedy-drama, and was originally named "Running Scared". The film’s cover features Don Knotts in his usual wide-eyed and surprised expression, with the film's slogan promising "You'll be scared until you laugh yourself silly - G-G-GUARANTEED!".
In the film, Don plays as a newspaper typesetter named Luther Heggs, who aspires to become a reporter and decides to write about Simmons Mansion, a haunted house in the fictional city of Rachel, Kansas. He ends up spending the night there, as hilarious encounters and situations ensue. His girlfriend in the film, Alma Parker, was a relatively small-time actress, who went on to appear in just a few more films before deciding to concentrate on TV shows after a horseback riding accident.
His Final Awards Ceremony
One of Don’s last public appearances occurred in 2004 at the TV Land Awards, just two years before the actor eventually passed away. He was 79 at the time of the event and appeared with Andy Griffith, the star of The Andy Griffith Show who played alongside him for almost 250 episodes. They were playing alongside each other for so long, that the show transitioned from being filmed in black and white to color during its 160th episode!
Unfortunately, many people commented that Don Knotts appears to be much older than Andy Griffith, despite being just two years his senior. The event was a very positive and fun experience for Knotts, and he even managed to receive a TV Land Legend Award during the ceremony, thanks to many of his fans voting for him as the number one choice for that award on TV Land’s website.
The Big Flop
One of the actor's more interesting films was The Reluctant Astronaut, a 1967 comedy film about a carnival ride operator who is sent into space as a result of an administrative oversight. This was his second Universal Film venture after The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and ended up flopping due to extremely bad luck, when an actual space mission, Apollo 1, was struck in a fire disaster that killed three astronauts just two days before the event.
Typical with many of Knotts films, the poster for the movie contained Knott's iconic wide-eyed surprised expression, the word "technicolor" signifying that it was made in color, and the tagline, which was "He's an Astro-Knott turned Astronaut in the Maddest Mixup in Space History!!" Despite the film’s mediocre performance, it received overall positive reviews and became a popular children's film and was frequently shown on weekend afternoons. Knotts was even nominated for a Male Comedy Performance Award but didn't end up taking the win.
Another one of Don Knotts’ goofy hero films was the 1968 western-comedy, The Shakiest Gun in the West. The film stars Don Knotts as Jesse W. Haywood, a man who finds himself as a reluctant cowboy. It's worth pointing out that many of Knotts films revolve around his characters landing up in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as a reporter unwillingly stuck in a haunted mansion, the reluctant astronaut, and now - a reluctant cowboy.
The poster again features his iconic surprised face, with the tagline reading "S-s-s-stick'em-u-u-u-p????" The film was a relative success and was mostly praised for its stronger comedic elements when compared to his previous two films. The Shakiest Gun in the West was also cited as one of the biggest influences for John Depp's popular 2011 CGI action comedy film, Rango. This Don Knotts film definitely stands the test of time and is worth watching even today, especially if you like Western films.