Don Knotts, who played the loveable and goofy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, spent the majority of his life battling a tragic past. And entertaining was one of the ways he escaped his troubles.
In a 2018 interview with Fox News, his daughter Karen explained that because he loved his job, he’d disappear for hours at a time to work on his line. And before long, she made it a habit to help her father practice.
Don Knotts was born into poverty and mental illness. And his childhood would eventually lead to years of therapy for the actor. Knotts’s father was both a schizophrenic and an alcoholic. And because of that, his father was physically abusive. Knotts remembered many situations where his father would hold a knife to his son’s throat and threaten to kill him.
Because of those events, Don Knotts spent years in therapy. In fact, Knotts worked with a doctor while he was filming his classic sitcom because he developed an addiction to sleeping pills. The doctor, named Dick Rennecker, eventually decided that Knotts’s unresolved childhood issues coupled with work stress caused the addiction. And eventually, Rennecker was able to help Knotts find peace.
In an autobiography titled Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show, Knotts’s son Tom said that Dr. Rennecker saved his father’s life.
“I’m convinced my dad wouldn’t have made it,” he said. “He would have committed suicide or something.”
Don Knotts Found Solice While Working on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’
Karen Knotts remembered that The Andy Griffith Show was a happy escape for her father. Because Knotts found comfort in his craft, he would spend long days on set and then come home and spend more time working on his lines.
“We didn’t see him a lot, because he worked 10, 12 hours a day,” said Karen. “And when he was home, he was always holed up in his room working on his lines and stuff like that. At that time, we kids were pretty young, and he confided whatever he was feeling about working on the show to my mom.”
But Don Knotts was a loving father and was always aware that his children wanted to spend more time with him. He’d often think of ways to be more present and would have the kids tag along when he’d head to the set. Another way he blended work and family was by having his daughter help him run lines.
“I remember watching and listening to him rehearse. He asked me to run lines,” she recalled. “At the time, I already knew I wanted to act, so I would try to act it out and he’d say, ‘No, no, no. Just give me the lines straight, no inflection, nothing, otherwise you throw me off.’ I was just part of that process.”