Don Knotts brought us laughter

Old friends, like old shoes, fit so well that it’s difficult to let go of them when it’s time. This past week we lost a long-time television friend.
Just as Grace Livingstone Hill was an important part of my teen years, Don Knotts has been important to me in recent years.
Somehow, I never cared much about television—or even movies—until I read “Anatomy of an Illness” published in 1979. In that book, Norman Cousins, long-time editor of The Saturday Review, reported how important humour and laughter had been for his recovery from a serious illness.
He said he purposely had watched funny movies and TV shows in order to laugh. Later, Cousins was invited to teach in the University of California medical school and presented lectures across the country on this topic.
So, I decided what was good enough for Norman Cousins, whom I respected, was good enough for me. And I also reasoned that if humour helps heal, it possibly could help prevent illness in the first place.
Ever since, I have religiously watched something funny every day possible. And that’s why Don Knotts was a good friend.
Knotts’ death got top billing in AOL news on Saturday with this statement, “You couldn’t help loving him.”
It seems that everybody loved Don Knotts—as a person, and especially as an actor. His self-important, inept Deputy Barney Fife in “The Andy Griffith Show” was a classic as he made mistake after mistake, always springing up to face the next challenge.
I especially enjoy his silly movies: “The Reluctant Astronaut,” “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,” “The Shakiest Gun in The West,” and “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” and also “The Apple Dumpling Gang” movies co-starring bumbling Tim Conway.
As a scrawny teenager, Knotts’ goal was to be an entertainer, but he was terribly shy. So shy that he was afraid to be on the stage by himself. As a result, his first act was as a ventriloquist so he could share the stage with a dummy.
When he was a young man, Knotts took his ventriloquist act to New York City and had a chance to try it on television, but it was a failure. So Knotts returned to his home in West Virginia and attended university as a speech major.
He probably would have ended up as a high school speech teacher if World War II had not intervened. During the war, Knotts became an entertainer. His monologues were a hit with both GI and civilian audiences.
Although Knotts never got over his stage fright during his long career, he was able to incorporate the nervousness into his acting. Thus his stage persona was born.
What a wonderful legacy Don Knotts has left us. His ability to laugh at himself makes us feel that life isn’t so hard after all. He helps us see there is still a good side to human nature.
Although Knotts has left us now, his work lives on to continue bringing joy to many generations. So celebrate a life well lived this weekend. Rent a Don Knotts movie and say a farewell thank you to this old friend.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at thisside60@aol.com or visit www.visit-snider.com

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