Many actors bemoan being indelibly linked with one of their characters, as that often limits their opportunities for other roles. Don Knotts didn’t have a problem with that, as his portrayal of the bumbling deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show” was his calling card but not his professional life’s calling.
Knotts, who died Friday at 81 after a battle against lung cancer, starred in movie comedies, performed on Broadway and had supporting roles in other television shows, most notably in ‘‘Three’s Company’’ (however his early work as the “nervous man” on “The Steve Allen Show” was simply brilliant).
Knotts was equally adept at playing swaggering rubes, such as Ralph Furley on “Three’s Company,” and the nervous everyman, including his roles in the films “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” and “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.”
But it was his turn as Barney Fife that made him a household name. “Andy Griffith” reruns continue to fill the airwaves, providing opportunities to catch classic Fife quotes such as:
• “First sign of youngsters going wrong, you’ve got to nip it in the bud. . . . You go read any book on the subject of child discipline and you’ll find every one of them is in favor of bud-nipping.”
• “Listen, an IQ can be a mixed blessing sometimes. Some people want it and can’t get it. I got it and had to get rid of it. Life’s funny that way, you know?”
As reported by The New York Times, actor Billy Bob Thornton said, ‘‘Don Knotts gave us (in Fife) the best character, the most clearly drawn, most perfect American, most perfect human ever.’’
High praise indeed for a man whose comedic gifts brought so many smiles to so many faces for so many generations.