Don Knotts’ Daughter Revealed the Truth About Andy Griffith Rivalry: ‘Andy Was My Dad’s Biggest Fan’

Actors Don Knotts and Andy Griffith are one of the most iconic duos in television history. For five seasons beginning in 1960, Knotts played Deputy Barney Fife to Griffith’s Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show. The impacts of the show and their on-screen partnership have endured for decades after the last new episode aired in 1968.

And something else that has endured are rumors of a rivalrous feud between the two acting friends. Though they were longtime companions, differences of opinions supposedly drove them apart around the time Knotts left The Andy Griffith Show. But Knotts’ daughter, Karen Knotts, has spoken about her “dad’s biggest fan” and she very plainly answered whether the two were rivals or not.

Don Knotts stands behind Andy Griffith, who is seated, and both are dressed in suits
Don Knotts and Andy Griffith | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Andy Griffith and Don Knotts’ contract dispute

As tends to happen, rumors of trouble between Griffith and Knotts manifested when Knotts exited the show. Some reports suggested he moved on in his career because he wanted more money — an easy guess — but supposedly it caused a rift between him and Griffith.

This stemmed from the fact that Griffith owned half the rights to the show and therefore profited handsomely. Meanwhile, Knotts was salaried and supposedly denied a raise. Whether the decision was financial or not, Karen Knotts told Fox her dad just moved on to new opportunities, plain and simple.

Knotts said, “Eventually, my dad got an offer to do something different,” so he moved on after his five-year contract ended. And she claimed there was no bitterness from Griffith towards Knotts. She explained, “Andy was very gracious about it.”

While she didn’t say they never had a disagreement, she did say they weren’t competitive adversaries. According to her, they were more like best friends – from start to finish.

“Some people still think they were rivals. They weren’t rivals at all. There was no rivalry,” she said. “Andy was my dad’s biggest fan. He was a mentor to him his whole life and they loved each other dearly.”

Andy Griffith and the Don Knotts statue that wasn’t

There’s another tale that contributes to the idea of a problem between Griffith and Knotts, and this happened after Knotts’ 2006.

There was a small campaign to have a statue of Barney Fife erected next to an already standing statue of Griffith as Andy Taylor holding hands with a young Ron Howard as Opie. As the story goes, Griffith heard about the proposed statue of Knotts and personally nipped it in the bud.

The statue of Griffith and Howard was raised in 2004 in Griffith’s hometown of Mt. Airy, North Carolina. Following Knotts’ death, two fans of The Andy Griffith Show from Mt. Airy suggested the display receive an update. They were apparently willing to commission the statue and gift it to the town.

According to Andy and Don author Daniel de Visé, Knotts’ widow’s sister’s husband, Griffith called Knotts’ widow sounding “hysterical” about the statue. The idea was rejected for Mt. Airy, but eventually a memorial went up in Knotts’ hometown of Morgantown, West Virginia.    

Don Knotts on ‘Matlock’

As Knotts’ daughter pointed out, Griffith invited her dad to join him on television again when Griffith starred as a lovably cantankerous defense attorney in Matlock. Knotts appeared as Benjamin Matlock’s neighbor who was introduced after being implicated in a murder.

According to Karen Knotts, this was one more way Griffith showed up for her dad. She shared, “[Matlock] was a time when my dad was starting to believe he wasn’t going to do television anymore.”

“My dad was diagnosed with macular degeneration, which was affecting his sight,” she said. “So he just thought that was it for him. He was turning down plenty of offers.”

In the end, she felt like his old friend didn’t let him down. She explained, “But Andy was there for him. He supported him. He was a constant presence in my dad’s life. They just loved each other.”

In fact, Griffith and Knotts were so close, Griffith convinced Knotts to let him visit while he was dying. According to Andy and Don, Knotts was insecure about his oxygen mask and didn’t want Griffith to see him in it. So, Griffith shared his own insecurity — his motorized scooter.

“I’ll have my scooter, and you’ll have your oxygen,” he laughed with his old friend. “We’re going to get through this.”

That chat with Griffith supposedly provided Knotts with immense relief before he died on Feb. 24, 2006 at 81. Griffith died on July 3, 2012 at 86.

RELATED: ‘Matlock’: A Producer on the Show Had ‘Unease’ With Andy Griffith’s Bringing Too Much ‘Mayberry’ Into the Drama