Why is it that I feel a ripple in the puddle of my life when certain celebrities pass on, while thousands perish every day with little effective notice on my part? The preceding question remains rhetorical for the time being as I relate the most recent Hollywood demise. Don Knotts has shuffled off his mortal coil and gone to that great sherrif's office in the sky.
I had a friend in high school who believed with all his heart that Don Knotts was the funniest person on the planet. I confess that when I was watching "The Andy Griffith Show" with this friend, it was hard to deny this. Watching Barney sweet talk Juanita (before his ongoing relationship with Thelma Lou) over the phone, or savoring the slow burn as Andy poked fun at his notions about modernizing Mayberry's law enforcement capabilities, or wincing as he tried in vain to reform Otis the town drunk - the rest of the show was just filler as we waited for Don Knotts to appear. For several years, if you wanted to make my friend laugh, all you had to do was say (in your most pinched, nasal voice), "Nip it, nip it, nip it!"
That alone would be enough to give me pause on the news of his death, but my fondness for the work of Don Knotts doesn't begin and end in Mayberry. One of my fondest childhood memories is from a visit to my great aunt and uncle's mobile home in Arizona. Tiring of the adult conversation and the recycled air, my older brother and I went for a walk and found ourselves sitting on the curb across the street from a drive-in theater. We watched all of "The Reluctant Astronaut" across two lanes of traffic with no sound and still laughed ourselves silly. Years later I sat mesmerized as I watched "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" on late night television. "The Incredlible Mr. Limpet" made me laugh and cry, when in the end Henry Limpet decides to stay in the sea. Don's later work lacked some of the heart that filled the characters he embodied in the sixties. By the time he put on a toupee to play Mr. Furley on "Three's Company," Don had resorted to playing a "Don Knotts type" - a fidgety, high-strung persona.
For me, that era will be just a grace note in a career full of big-time comedy. It's not a matter that's open to discussion - so just nip it - nip it in the bud!