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RIP, Don Knotts

Don Knotts, known for many roles from Barney Fife to Ralph Furley and much more, passed away over the weekend at the age of 81.

Knotts first rose to prominence in the late 1950s, joining Louis Nye and other comedy players on “The Steve Allen Show.” In 1961, United Artists Records released a comedy album entitled “Don Knotts: An Evening with Me,” which featured various takeoffs on the “nervous man” routine the comic had made famous on Allen’s show. One of the bits, “The Weatherman,” concerned a TV forecaster forced to wing it after the meteorology report fails to make it to the studio by air time.

During the mid to late 1960s, in a largely unsuccessful bid for major film stardom, Knotts made a series of family films that many connoisseurs now say were critically underappreciated at the time. These include “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” (1964), “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966) and “The Reluctant Astronaut” (1967). The latter two were made as part of a five-picture deal with Universal Pictures.

“Limpet,” the tale of a meek man who is transformed into a fish, has particularly won recent acclaim. Its early mix of live action and animation was a forerunner of such later films as “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and “Space Jam.”

At one point, Jim Carrey was said to be considering starring in a “Limpet” remake, although the project has yet to materialize. Once, when Knotts visited the set of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” Carrey paid tribute. “I went to him, and I was just like, ‘Thank you so much for “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,”‘ Carrey later told an interviewer. ” ‘I watched it a hundred times when I was a kid.’ ”

Martin Short has likewise hailed Knotts as a major influence, and at least one of Short’s recurring characters, shifty-eyed lawyer Nathan Thurm, owes a debt to Knotts’ “nervous man” character, created for “The Steve Allen Show” in the 1950s.

As always, your best source of information on celebrity eulogies is Mark Evanier, who remembers Knotts as “The most beloved person in all of show business” and has more here. Rest in peace, Don Knotts.

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