Mr. Furley's wardrobe may have worn out its welcome, but Don Knotts is kickin' it old school -- both on stage and in reruns.

A Knotty Boy 

Mr. Furley's wardrobe may have worn out its welcome, but Don Knotts is kickin' it old school -- both on stage and in reruns.

Had his Emmy-winning portrayal of bumbling deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show been his only gig, Don Knotts would still be a beloved comic icon. If lover-man-in-his-own-mind Ralph Furley on Three's Company had been his only role ever, he'd still be a beloved comic icon. But thanks to The Incredible Mr. Limpet, in which Knotts starred as Henry Limpet, the world was blessed with what is unquestionably the Citizen Kane of World War II-era wimpy-guy-turns-into-cartoon-fish-and-assists-the-Navy-in-putting-the-smackdown-on-Nazis movies.

"It's a good feeling," Knotts says of his star status. Appearing at Overland Park's New Theatre Restaurant in On Golden Pond, he's putting in time as Norman Thayer, a character more prone to sensible plaid button-downs than to Mr. Furley's garish pattern collisions. (Speaking of which, did he get to keep his Three's Company clothes? "I didn't want 'em!" Knotts insists. And when John Ritter's death comes up in conversation, he pauses before simply stating of the recent shocker, "I just couldn't get over that happening.")

Knotts says the only thing he and Thayer have in common is that they're both 79 years old. Contrary to rumor, this performance is not indicative of a slow descent into retirement. Upon the show's close in November, Knotts heads to Toronto for a series of dates with good friend and Dorf alter ego Tim Conway. And before any more rumors get started, though the duo indeed keep close company, Knotts says he's unaware of plans for either a third Apple Dumpling Gang or second Private Eyes.

OK, but it's not like a Knotts fix is hard to come by. Even if his fans don't make it to On Golden Pond, The Andy Griffith Show and Three's Company will run on TV Land and Nick at Nite in perpetuity. Movies such as The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and The Reluctant Astronaut pop up from time to time on television, too. Plus, for as long as there are both grandparents and Chicago Superstation WGN, Knotts' frequent guest spots will come around on Matlock, reuniting him with Griffith. Knotts can even be seen hanging with Kermit on The Muppet Show or solving mysteries with everybody's favorite canine sleuth on The New Scooby-Doo Movies, the incarnation of the show in which the gang pooled its detective skills with guests such as Batman and Robin and the Harlem Globetrotters. However, it'll probably be a cold day in hell before the Yakov Smirnoff sitcom What a Country, in which Knotts also performed, ever makes it to repeats.

Regardless of the role he's playing, Knotts seems genuinely nice, the kind of guy who doesn't have a single mean thing to say about anybody. Ask him if he ever wanted to take a swing at Griffith, and he'll laugh -- though, intriguingly, he doesn't answer the question.

If only for that key quality -- not the ambiguity but the kindness -- Knotts will continue to occupy a soft spot in the hearts of rerun watchers everywhere.

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