‘This Is Your Life’: Why Andy Griffith Was ‘Furious’ He Was Ambushed on the Reality Show – and Don Knotts Was a No-Show

Actor Andy Griffith was surprised with a 1971 appearance on the reality show This Is Your Life. But the Andy Griffith Show star was not pleased in the least. In fact, he was incensed that he had been overwhelmingly surprised by the program.

What was even stranger was that his former Griffith Show sidekick, Don Knotts, didn’t make an appearance.

Portrait of Andy Griffith in a gray suit and yellow tie in 1976
Portrait of Andy Griffith, 1976 | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

‘This is Your Life’

This Is Your Life was what today would be called a reality show or documentary-style program that focused on one person, typically a celebrity but also featuring ordinary people. The program’s creator and host Ralph Edwards surprised guests, leading them through a look back at their lives in front of an audience, with appearances from their work associates, friends, and family.

(L to R): 'This Is Your Life' with June Carter Cash, host Ralph Edwards, and Johnny Cash in 1971
(L to R): ‘This Is Your Life’ with June Carter Cash, host Ralph Edwards, and Johnny Cash in 1971 | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives

Edwards created the show’s concept in 1948 while working on another program Truth or Consequences. It was initially designed to cheer injured soldiers with visits from old friends and family. A radio show at first, once television became prevalent, it aired on NBC television from 1952 to 1961 and then was revived again in 1971.

Andy Griffith on ‘This Is Your Life’

When Griffith appeared on the program, it was 1971. His self-titled program had ended in 1968. By 1970, the actor had tried at creating another successful series in the drama-comedy Headmaster. It lasted one season. The New Andy Griffith Show followed in 1971 and it too flopped, lasting only ten episodes. It wasn’t the career moment Griffith wanted a spotlight shone on, as Daniel de Visé stated in his book, Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show.

“Just as his television world was crumbling around him, Andy Griffith found himself a surprise guest on the March 25, 1971 broadcast of This Is Your Life,” he wrote. “Faithful Dick Linke [Griffith’s longtime manager] helped arrange the affair, which reunited Andy with a bewildering array of loved ones and long-lost friends.”

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Among those invited to the tribute were the minister from the actor’s North Carolina hometown who had taught him to play trombone; the glee club members he had led in high school; and Elia Kazan, the Oscar-winning director who “gave Andy his greatest film role” in 1957’s A Face in the Crowd.

Some of the Griffith Show‘s cast and crew also showed up, including creator Sheldon Leonard, Jim Nabors, Ron Howard, and Ken Berry.

One would think Griffith would have been pleased at the gathering in his honor. He wasn’t, according to his biographer: “Andy was furious. He liked to control his projects, not be blindsided by them.”

Why wasn’t Don Knotts there?

Andy Griffith and Don Knotts relax after a meal on the set of 'The Andy Griffith Show,' 1960
Andy Griffith and Don Knotts on the set of ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ 1960

It’s never been explained why, but Griffith’s dear friend and former Griffith Show co-star wasn’t at the broadcast.

“The one curious omission was Don Knotts, Andy’s dearest friend,” said de Visé. “Was this an intentional act by Dick Linke, part of a campaign to dissociate his greatest client from the former partner? Decades later, Dick maintains he never intentionally excluded Don from the broadcast.”