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Don Knotts Made America Laugh, But His Life Was Actually Tragic

CBS

Even though it aired "before my time," I grew up watching reruns of The Andy Griffith Show.

Every episode, the misadventures of Sheriff Andy and Barney Fife made my whole family laugh.

To this day, it's one of the few sitcoms that can make me laugh no matter how many times I've seen the episodes.

That's why I was heartbroken to learn that the actor who played Barney, Don Knotts, had such an unhappy life.

Growing up in poverty

Don Knotts as Barney Fife.
Don Knotts as Barney Fife.CBS

Knotts didn't exactly grow up in Mayberry.

The actor was raised by a West Virginia couple who often struggled to feed him and his three brothers.

Knotts's mother was 40 when she gave birth to him, and his father was an alcoholic with schizophrenia.

The stress of Knotts's birth only made his father's condition worse, and the man would sometimes hold a knife to his son's throat.

Knotts was able to repress these memories so deeply that his mother had to remind him they even happened.

But Daniel de Vise, who wrote the behind the scenes book Andy and Don, says Knotts's memories came "flooding back" in therapy.

Overcoming Abuse

Don Knotts young
A young Don Knotts with his dummy, Danny "Hooch" Matador.Appalachian Project

While his father treated him very poorly, the man died when Knotts was just 13 years old, and life seemed to settle down.

The abuse had made Knotts a very shy, inward boy, but he came out of his shell while performing as an actor and ventriloquist in school plays.

Soon, Knotts was dreaming about life as a movie and TV actor.

But nothing came easy for the future star, and his career started off very badly

.

Anxiety and Addiction

After high school, Knotts moved to New York to pursue a career in show business.

But he had no luck, and soon moved back to West Virginia.

The actor's first stroke of good luck came when he joined the Army during World War 2.

Don Knotts WW2.
Knotts in World War 2.The Everett Collection

He was finally recognized for his comedic talent, and landed a job performing for his fellow soldiers overseas.

After the war, Knotts found even more success in Hollywood, earning his first TV and movie roles.

But behind the scenes, the actor dealt with hypochondria so severe it would keep him in bed for days before his big roles.

Doctors prescribed him anti-anxiety pills, but Knotts only became addicted to the drugs.

Personal Struggles

Despite landing the role of his career as Barney Fife, Knotts's personal life was still unhappy.

He had a pair of broken marriages, before marrying his third and final wife in 2002.

Shortly afterwards, Knotts developed macular degeneration, which eventually left him blind.

Don Knotts Andy Griffith.
Knotts with Andy Griffith.CBS

Knotts died in 2006 from complications of pneumonia and lung cancer.

While his life wasn't easy, there's no denying that Knotts made plenty of fans in his long career.

Despite everything he lived through, he's still making us smile more than a decade after he passed away.

I still love watching The Andy Griffith Show, don't you?

[H/T: Charlotte Observer]

I write about all sorts of things for Shared, especially weird facts, celebrity news, and viral stories. CONTACT: zachary@shared.com