Don Knotts, a favorite of mine since my childhood, has died yesterday of respiratory problems at the age of 81. I loved the man's work, and admired his ability to extract laughs from even a lame script due to his expressive face and his remarkable vocal skills. Sure, we all know that rubbery face and it's exaggerated expressions of shock, fear, and apprehension, but the voice is what really made it all work.
I hate to see him go; even though he hadn't done anything for television or movies in a while, I liked knowing that he was around--and I was glad that he lived to see his work on The Andy Griffith Show get the attention it deserved as the series was made available on DVD at long last. The show lost a lot of its appeal after Knotts left; it was still enjoyable, of course, but the truly distinctive humor built on the chemistry between the easygoing Andy Taylor and the highstrung Barney Fife was the foundation of much of the series' best episodes, and the addition of Goober could do nothing to balance Knotts' departure from the series.
I didn't particularly care for Three's Company, but I watched the show now and then simply because Knotts was in the cast in the show's later years. I also kept an eye out for Knotts' various film appearances, and was always amused at how much Knotts could resemble Mick Jagger--a comparison I'm not sure that Mick would appreciate, but it's true nonetheless.
More than a decade ago, Knotts reunited with Andy Griffith and other members of the old cast for a reunion special; while the plot was a bit labored, it was good to see the two together once again.
I sometimes wonder if it's rewarding or frustrating for an actor to be best remembered and most beloved for a role he created early in his career; is he, like Orson Welles, always overshadowed by the grandeur of his early self? Maybe, maybe not--but there's no doubt that Don Knotts will always be Barney Fife to those of us who grew up in the 1960's...