Vintage | Entertainment | TV Shows/Movies

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

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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


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