Three’s Company


Do celebrities really die in threes?

To some, it’s a universal law. To others, it’s just sloppy thinking applied to a statistical likelihood with all the famous people walking around these days.

Each camp draws different conclusions to the same evidence, like in late June, 2009, with the wave of celebrity deaths that took place around the passing of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett.

Another such grouping happened five years ago this week with the triple-deaths of the three-D’s – Darren McGavin, Dennis Weaver, and Don Knotts – within 24 hours.

Darren McGavin, the first to be born and the last to die, spent much of his youth in the Pacific Northwest either homeless or living in orphanages. He began his Hollywood career as a painter on the Columbia lot where he secured a bit role in a film before moving to New York to hone the craft of acting.

He eventually starred in seven television series, most notably in Kolchak: The Night Stalker in the early 70s, playing a modern-day vampire hunter. His most famous film role came in 1983’s A Christmas Story, where he played the grumpy father with the kitschy leg lamp.

McGavin died on February 25, 2006, a day after Knotts and Weaver. He was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in an appropriate spot for a former vampire hunter, as his plot overlooks that of Maila Nurmi, television’s original Vampira.

Dennis Weaver was raised in Missouri where he wanted to be an actor from an early age. He committed to the profession after failing to make the 1948 U.S. Olympic decathlon team. His acting career was secured when he landed the role of Chester, Matt Dillon’s deputy, in the long-running Western series Gunsmoke in 1955.

Weaver was often seen on television throughout the rest of his career, including starring roles in Gentle Ben in 1967 and McCloud in 1970. He also starred in the Steven Spielberg thriller Duel in 1971.

Weaver and his wife Gerry had one of the most successful marriages in Hollywood history, lasting from 1945 until his death. He was an advocate for the environment and a major supporter of several progressive causes. He died from lung cancer on February 24, 2006.

Don Knotts, like Weaver, was born in the summer of 1924.

Knotts came from West Virginia and began his stage career as a ventriloquist. In 1958, he appeared alongside Andy Griffith in the film No Time For Sergeants, which began a lifelong friendship and professional relationship between the two men.

Knotts later got regular work on television on Three’s Company and other shows, and in several classic screen comedies like The Incredible Mr. Limpet, Pleasantville, and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (“Atta boy, Luther!”). 

But to the millions of fans who still regularly transport themselves to the town of Mayberry in the country of TV Land, Knotts will forever be Deputy Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. Barney, with his Napoleon complex and single bullet, was just about the funniest character to ever appear on a television set.

It was fitting that both Knotts and Weaver died on the same day, since they both became famous playing deputies. As one blogger wrote back in 2006, “it looks like a bad week to be an ex-law enforcement sidekick.”

It was a bad week for us all.

I never met any of these men, so I can’t vouch for their real-life personalities, but thanks to the wonderful characters they played, it’s impossible for me to bring any of them to mind without breaking into a smile.

 

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About deadwrite

Freelance writer, film historian, taphophile View all posts by deadwrite

3 responses to “Three’s Company

  • Kim Stephens

    LOVE this article, particularly the story of Don Knotts. Everything about The Andy Griffith Show makes me feel all happy and warm inside (one of my guilty secrets is that I actually own several DVD’s of the show, which, yes, I actually do watch). Don Knotts truly was a comic genius and is still missed by all of us who grew up with Barney Fife.

  • Arlee Bird

    I think that 3 thing is mostly just coincidence. People are always dying and I guess you could link any of them.

    About Don Knotts, my parents both went to college with him at the University of West Virginia in Morgantown. Since my mother was a dancer and my father was a juggler, they would often work shows with Don Knotts. My mother says he had a crush on one of her sisters but she always shunned him. I wonder if she ever rethought that move in later years?

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

  • Dawn

    I happened to be at the Pearce Brothers Memorial Park the day of Don Knotts’ funeral. I was there with my boyfriend at the time, as I wanted to show him the final resting places of Truman Capote and Marilyn Monroe. At first, the police shooed us away, but we came back about an hour later to find the crowd of friends and family dwindling. A light rain set in as they lowered his light blue casket into the ground. We were the only two left in the whole place. It was sad and a bit spooky! I grew up watching reruns of Andy Griffith and always had a crush on Don Knotts!

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