Throughout the history of Hollywood, there have been comedic geniuses, Buster Keaton, Danny Kaye, Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks, Jim Carrey, Dave Chappelle, Bill O’Reilly, Dame Judi Dench and of course, Don Knotts.
But it wasn’t always that way for Don Knotts. He long harbored dreams of being a Shakespearean actor in British theatre.
Don Knotts, born Julius Aloysius Thumington Knottsbury the Third, came into existance in 1924, while his family was summering in the south of France, specifically their summer villa and winery in the Bordeaux region.
The acting bug hit young J. Aloysius early in life. While in preschool, he took on the role of Baby Jesus in the St. Jean-Pierre Church production of the Nativity. Unfortunately, others in the congregation felt that a four-year-old was too aged to be playing a newborn. They also took offense with the fact that the Knottsbury family was actually Zoroastrian. The congregation stoned them (and not in the good way) and chased them out of France, all the way to Morgantown, West Virginia.
Destitute and smelly, the Knottsburys shortened their last name to Knotts and took over managing a manure farm, (human manure, unfortunately) making them even smellier. To rid themselves of their outsider status, J. Aloysius and his brothers, (Thurgood and Chesterford) changed their names to Don, Ron and Jon, respectively. They all attended Spittle County Public School (grades: 1 – until people get tired and leave) when they weren’t shoveling manure.
While in school, young Don Knotts continued to practice his acting skillz. He starred in a locally-aired commercial for “Knotts People Poop Fertilizer.” A small-time producer saw Don’s portrayal of a hungry child smeared in human excrement and was blown away by the sheer acting genius. He hired Don for his first big time acting gig as Deputy Barney Fife in The Andy Griffith Show. Here’s an excerpt of Andy Griffith’s memoir, The Space Between Two Big Ass Ears:
“The first time I met Don was very interesting. He affected this British accent that he said he cultivated during his childhood in the champs of Southern France. This was a bit of a problem since none of us could understand a lick of what he was saying! Not to mention I don’t even know how you get a British accent from living in France. So for the first three and a half weeks Don ended up working with a dialect coach to rid him of his accent and make him sound a little more down home. You might notice in early episodes how he doesn’t talk that much…he does grunts and other wacky noises.”
After a few seasons as Andy Griffith’s bumbling sidekick, Don Knotts felt that it was time for him to move on to more sophisticated fare. In the mid 60s, he decided to move to Hollywood to work in motion pictures.
This was the best time to break into movies because Hollywood was going through a renaissance. Dramatic and sweeping epics were becoming huge and extremely bankable. It was the exact type of acting that Don dreamed of doing. The first role he auditioned for went back to his early acting roots when he attempted to play Jesus once again, this time in MGM’s production of Jesus Saves Easter.
Unfortunately, due to his jittery, emaciated countenance, he was unable to secure the role as the Messiah and ended up playing an animated fish in the Disney movie The Incredible Mr. Limpet. The pain was compounded as the actor who did land the role of Jesus, Tommy Kirk, won the Oscar that year for best actor. This turn of events led Don into a deep spiral of depression that could only be alleviated by his blossoming addiction to sniffing people’s chairs.
After a series of semi-popular Disney movies, including The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, and The Apple Dumpling Gangbangs Annie Oakley, Don was feeling used up by Hollywood.
He moved to New York to clear his head and try to make it onto Broadway. He felt that the fast lane lifestyle of smelling chairs and doing “zany” movies was the wrong direction for his career. He remembered his early dream of being a Shakespearean actor and felt that the NYC theater scene could catapult him onto the British stage.
He started off Broadway, playing a small bric-a-brac giraffe in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. During the climactic scene his character is swept off a table and crashes to the floor where he breaks into a thousand shards of glass. His performance was immediately noticed by theater critics, who hailed Don Knotts as the best non-gay man on Broadway.
Don was able to use this praise to land a starring role in Carnival of Souls: The Musical! It was a smashing success and for the first time in his life felt like he was living his dream.
He then decided to quit bullshitting and moved to England to act in theater. His first and only role was as the Necrophilia-obsessed Vicar in the lesser known Shakespearean tragedy Vicars. Bollocks & Spotted Dick, at The Globe in Stratford-upon-Avon. The play was considered extremely bad by everybody in the audience. In a violent rage they burned down The Globe, dug up Shakespeare and desecrated his body and lynched any member of the cast they could get their hands on. Don barely escaped with his life and only survived due to his amazing skills as an actor and his ability to fit in anywhere.
He moved back to America and ended up taking his second most famous role as Mr. Furley in Three’s Company, from 1979-1984. As Mr. Furley, Knotts was able to use his fame to bed any women on the set, and many men as well. It was at this time that his terrible addiction to seat sniffing reared its ugly head, stronger than ever.
Regardless of personal problems, Knotts soon became immensely popular and was mobbed everywhere he went. It wasn’t the fame and success he craved. It barely filled the big gaping hole in his soul. Over the next 20 years he slept walked through roles in Scooby Doo, That 70s Show and much more. He became a hollow mockery of the great actor he once was.
Don Knotts died by auto erotic asphyxiation February 24, 2006. He was found by his maid, laying naked in bed, his head in a plastic bag, and a tube of KY on his bedside table. A nation mourned for a full week and the government would have declared February to be Don Knotts month, but was scared of black people rioting and corrupting all of their innocent, nubile white daughters.
In the end, the people of Morgantown, West Virginia, erected a statue of Don Knotts in their town square. Unfortunately decided to depict him as he was found: strangled to death while masturbating.
That’s messed up.
I end this testament as I do with each of them, by haiku:
Don Knotts is the man
He seemed to have the palsy
Like a shaky stick