To classic TV fans, Andy Griffith and Don Knotts were the ultimate comedy duo known for starring in beloved programs including The Andy Griffith Show, The New Andy Griffith Show and Matlock. And offscreen, the two were real-life best friends, too!
Andy and Don bonded right away and became fast friends when they costarred in the 1955 play No Time for Sergeants. “They were two Southern guys alone in Manhattan, so they were drawn to each other instantly,” Daniel de Visé, Don’s former brother-in-law and the author of Andy & Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show, exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now.
When they moved on to The Andy Griffith Show in 1960, Andy and Don — who portrayed characters Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife, respectively, on the series — solidified their friendship even more. “There was a lot of playful, chaotic, rambunctious fun around the set, and Don was always willing to join in,” Ron Howard, who costarred with the duo, recalled to Closer. “Andy was the world’s greatest audience for Don. He had Andy literally in tears once a week.”
According to those closest to them, the actors’ lifelong friendship was rooted in the similarly painful childhoods they experienced while both growing up in the South. “Don says a comedian is born out of either unhappiness or embarrassment, and at some time in life, perhaps when you’re about 3 to 5 years old, you start to learn to protect yourself,” Andy once said. “When you’re laughed at, you turn it to your advantage.”
Don was raised in Morgantown, West Virginia and had an abusive, alcoholic father. “His father was mentally ill, and he would terrorize Don — chase him around the house and threaten to hurt him. So he had that sort of fear always in his young life,” de Visé said. As for Andy’s upbringing in North Carolina, the future star’s father also had a drinking problem and he was often bullied by his peers. “There was a perception that he was a mama’s boy, and other kids gave him a hard time,” de Visé explained.
As adults, both Andy and Don found an escape in showbiz. “They grew very close,” de Visé said of their Hollywood friendship. “Some comedians are tight inside, but Andy’s warm,” Don once said of his pal. “You can get close to him.” The feeling was mutual for Andy. “I loved Don. There was no one like him,” the star once said.
Over the years, the two went their separate ways but always kept in touch. And when Don was diagnosed with lung cancer in the early 2000s, Andy rushed to his side. “As soon as the two of them were together, it was like they never skipped a beat,” their Matlock costar Nancy Stafford told Closer. “They fell into this routine of singing, laughing and telling jokes together — it was hysterical. They had this amazing communication.”
“He was Don’s last visitor aside from his family,” de Visé said of Andy. Don sadly passed away from pulmonary and respiratory complications of pneumonia related to lung cancer in February 2006 at age 81 and Andy died of a heart attack at age 86 in July 2012.
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