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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

February 24, 2006

Welcome to this week's edition of the Tuesday Timeline.  This is a weekly feature where we take a look back at a particular event in pop culture history and talk about it.

Of course, if you've been following the blog since the early days, most of you probably already know this.

Anyway, it's the final Tuesday of February 2015, and in this edition, we'll be paying tribute to someone who I would easily consider a comedic genius.

You guys all know the drill by now.  Before we go ahead with the main topic of conversation, we are going to be entertained by other February 24 entries that didn't quite make the cut.

1582 - Pope Gregory XIII announces the arrival of the Gregorian calendar

1607 - Claudio Monteverdi's "L'Orfeo" has its premiere performance - one of the first works to be recognized as an opera

1809 - The Drury Lane Theatre in London burns down

1863 - Arizona is organized as a territory of the United States

1868 - Andrew Johnson becomes the first American President to be impeached; the Senate would later acquit him of all charges

1918 - A declaration of independence is made by the nation of Estonia

1938 - Actor James Farentino (d. 2012) is born in Brooklyn, New York

1942 - The Battle of Los Angeles - one of the largest documented UFO sightings in history - begins

1955 - Co-founder of Apple Inc. Steve Jobs (d. 2011) is born in San Francisco, California

1968 - Comedian Mitch Hedberg (d. 2005) is born in St. Paul, Minnesota

1980 - The U.S. Olympic Team defeats Finland 4-2 to win the gold medal in hockey, completing the "Miracle on Ice".

1981 - Athens, Greece is struck by a 6.7 magnitude earthquake, killing 16 and destroying several buildings

1983 - A special commission of the United States Congress releases a report condemning the practice of Japanese internment during World War II

1984 - A school shooting takes place at 49th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, killing two children and injuring twelve others

1989 - Nine passengers are sucked out of an airplane when a hole rips open on United Airlines Flight 811

1994 - Singer/actress Dinah Shore passes away at the age of 77

2008 - After almost fifty years in power, Fidel Castro steps down as President of Cuba

2011 - The final launch of Space Shuttle Discovery takes place

2014 - Actor/director Harold Ramis dies at the age of 69

Let us also wish the following famous faces a happy birthday.  Happy birthday to Abe Vigoda, Dominic Chianese, Barry Bostwick, Rupert Holmes, Edward James Olmos, Dennis Waterman, George Thorogood, Debra Jo Rupp, Helen Shaver, Sid Meier, Paula Zahn, Sammy Kershaw, Mark Moses, Beth Broderick, Todd Field, Kristin Davis, Billy Zane, Bonnie Somerville, Ashley MacIsaac, Crista Flanagan, Jay Kenneth Johnson, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Claire Cooper, Lleyton Hewitt, and Trace Cyrus.

Now comes today's date.  And it's actually one that's not that far away in the past.  We aren't even going back ten years.

The date is February 24, 2006.  And this was the day that we said goodbye to a true film and television legend.

Sure, he may not have portrayed some of the most intelligent people to ever grace the silver screen and boob tube.  But watching him on film and television, you probably wouldn't have guessed that he earned a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University.  He also served during World War II, performing comedy routines and vaudeville style acts for the troops. 

And, what you probably didn't know was that behind all the laughter and the joy he brought to each and every one of his performances, he had a childhood that could best be described as a nightmare.

This is the story of Jesse Donald Knotts - better known to you and I as Don Knotts, who passed away nine years ago today at the age of 81.

Now, Don Knotts and I actually share one thing in common.  We were both children that were born later than all the others.  In my case, I was the youngest child born nearly a full decade after the last one was born.  Don Knotts was the last child born to William and Elsie Knotts on July 21, 1924, when Elsie was forty.  

And due to the stress of the birth, Don's father sustained a nervous breakdown because of it.  To make matters worse, Don would spend the first thirteen years of his life afraid of his father.  Due to his alcoholism and suffering symptoms of schizophrenia, Don's father would often terrorize him, even chasing after him with a knife.  Don's father died in 1937.  His older brother William would die four years later, in 1941.  Don's mother would pass away in 1969 at the age of 84.

After returning from the war and graduating from West Virginia University in 1948, Knotts had decided that he wanted to become an entertainer as a full-time career, and one of his first roles ever was on the television soap opera "Search for Tomorrow".  He stayed on the show for two years (1953-1955) before becoming a regular guest on Steve Allen's variety show beginning in 1956.  During this time, he also acted in a couple of Broadway performances and films including one stint in 1958 where he starred in the film version of "No Time for Sergeants" with a man by the name of Andy Griffith.

You know where I'm going with this, right?

Of course, you know that it would be because of Andy Griffith that Don Knotts would become a huge star, as Knotts was cast on "The Andy Griffith Show" playing the part of bumbling, yet kind-hearted deputy Barney Fife.  Knotts played Barney Fife for the first five seasons of the show alongside Griffith and child actor Ron Howard - hmm...whatever became of Ron Howard anyway?  That'll have to be looked at another day.

Anyway, back to Knotts.  During the five years he played Barney Fife, Knotts enjoyed the experience.  Initially, Griffith was supposed to be the comedic foil for Barney Fife, but audiences responded better when the situation was the other way around, so Barney Fife gradually became more comedic and funny as the show progressed.

But at the conclusion of the show's fifth season in 1965, Knotts had believed that the fifth season would be the show's last, and he had started to look for other work.  To Knotts' surprise, the show was renewed for another year (the show stayed on the air until 1968).  But at that time, Knotts had already booked several film projects and he was tied up.  Besides, when Knotts weighed the pros and the cons of it all, he figured that he would not get another opportunity to land a movie contract.  So, the decision was made for Knotts to leave in 1965 to embark on his film career.

And, what films did he appear in?

Well, there's "The Incredible Mr. Limpet", "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken", "The Reluctant Astronaut", "How To Frame a Figg", "The Apple Dumpling Gang", "Gus", and "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo".  I'd say that was a good move on Knotts' part, wouldn't you?

(By the way, Disney has a collection of Don Knotts movies available in a special four film collection!  Definitely check it out!)

And beginning in 1979, Don Knotts proved that sitcom success could strike twice when he was cast as Ralph Furley in the sitcom "Three's Company".

Now, joining the cast of an already established show could signify the moment in which a show "jumps the shark", so to speak.  But I have to be honest, I thought Don Knotts joining the show brought new life to the program.  Sure, I liked the Ropers enough, but they always had the same gags and by season three, it was time for a change.  Well, not only did Don Knotts make audiences laugh with his portrayal of the swinging landlord Mr. Furley, but when Suzanne Somers left the show in 1981, Knotts was given material that was meant for Somers' character, Chrissy Snow, and well, he stayed on the show until its cancellation in September 1984.

And he reunited with his old friend Andy Griffith in the 1986 film "Return to Mayberry" and had a recurring role on Griffith's series "Matlock" until 1992.  After appearing on "Matlock", Knotts took on fewer acting projects, though he did make a small appearance on the 1998 film "Pleasantville", lent his voice talents to a couple of Scooby-Doo projects, voiced Turkey Lurkey in "Chicken Little", and appeared in a cameo on "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" alongside his former "Three's Company" cast mate John Ritter, who would die just months after taping the episode with Knotts.

In later years, Knotts began to lose vision in his eyes, due to macular degeneration, and he was considered totally blind by the time he died on February 24, 2006.  The cause of death was pneumonia related to lung cancer.  One of the last people to visit Knotts before his death was Andy Griffith.

It seems hard to believe that he's been gone for nine years, but in a way, Don Knotts still lives on.  In 1998, his hometown of Morgantown, West Virginia named a street after him.  And in 2000, Knotts received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

And, of course, there's his final resting place...with a plaque that shows just how rich and rewarding a career he had.

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