dk.jpggun_barney_bullet_small.jpgDon Knotts, whose portrayal of the wonderfully bumbling Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show” inspired legions of would-be comics and made the scrawny West Virginian a beloved icon to three generations of television viewers, died Friday night. He was 81. Knotts did it all, did it well and did it like no one else before or since.

The role of Barney Fife, nervous sidekick to the laid-back sheriff of fictional Mayberry, N.C., was Knotts’ signature work and the performance of which he remained enormously proud for 40 years.

For five years, from 1960 to 1965, Barney fought what little crime he could rustle up on the streets of the sleepy little town, searched for love in the arms of Thema Lou (with the occasional dalliance with that trashy Juanita down at the diner) and set a new standard for bullet maintenance.

Few actors have ever been more right for a part than Knotts as Barney Fife. Barney, as seen through the heart and mind of Knotts, was the everyman who lives inside us all. Oh, we may pretend we’re cool, calm, collected and wise like Andy, but deep inside we know there is a nervous, unsure nerd who may often come up short, but never for lack of trying. Barney Fife often failed, but he always tried.

The Barney Fife who came from Knotts’ mind and heart may not have been a great lawman, but no town ever had a better friend and no television fan a funnier performer to watch. Small-town North Carolina could not have had a better ambassador.

Andy said it often about Barney, and it rings as true about Knotts today as it did on the gentle streets of that sweet town: “You beat everything, you know that?”

Post excerpted from the Raleigh News & Observer.