Don Knotts, ‘48 BA
Morgantown native Don Knotts began his legendary career as a ventriloquist, performing paid gigs at parties and other events in the local area. He decided to take a stab at a career in show business, moving to New York City after graduating from high school, but returned to his hometown to attend West Virginia University. World War II began soon after, and Don enlisted in the Army where he was assigned to the Special Services Branch. While serving, he entertained the troops and began his comedic career.
Don returned to WVU where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1948. Upon graduation, he married and returned to New York City where he performed stand-up comedy at clubs, and appeared on radio programs, eventually playing the character Windy Wales on “The Bobby Benson Show.”
From 1953 to 1955, he was a regular on the soap opera “Search for Tomorrow.” He was cast in the small role of the psychiatrist in the Broadway play “No Time for Sergeants,” which starred Andy Griffith. He appeared as a regular on the “The Steve Allen Show” beginning in 1956 where he became well-known for his “nervous man” shtick in the “Man-on-the-Street” segments. It was this role of the fidgety, high-strung persona that became part of his characters for the rest of his career.
When “The Tonight Show” moved to Hollywood in 1959 with host Jack Paar, Don also moved to California as a regular. Shortly thereafter, he was cast as Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show,” a role that would make him a legend. He earned five Emmy nominations, winning all five times in the Best Supporting Actor category from 1961 to 1967.
In 1964, Don earned success on the big screen where he starred in “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” and signed a five-year contract with Universal Studios. He went on to star in major movies, including “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966), “The Reluctant Astronaut” (1967), “The Shakiest Gun in the West” (1968), “The Love God” (1969) and How to Frame a Figg (1971).
During the 1970s, he appeared in regional theater and made guest appearances on several TV shows. He teamed with Tim Conway on comedies for Walt Disney before landing a co-starring role as landlord Ralph Furley on the popular sitcom “Three’s Company” from 1977 to 1984. Don also appeared in several television shows, including Griffith’s “Matlock” series.
In 2000, Don was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. During the next 10 years, he remained active, touring with plays and doing voice-over work for cartoons, including the voice of Mayor Turkey Lurkey in Disney’s animated film “Chicken Little” in 2005.
Don passed away in 2006 after an illness leaving behind his wife Francey and two children, Karen and Thomas.