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Fundraising begins for Don Knotts statue

The Associated Press

MORGANTOWN: Hometown fans have launched a Web site and begun collecting money for a bronze statue of the late Don Knotts that will honor the actor, rather than Barney Fife or the other characters he played.

The Greater Morgantown Community Trust needs about $50,000 for the statue, which Monongalia County Commissioner John Pyles said Thursday will show a middle-aged Knotts in plain clothes, seated and reading a script.

Morgantown sculptor Jamie Lester, who designed the back of the West Virginia quarter, has already created an 18-inch clay model for the life-size statue.

Lester also created a bronze star that was installed in a city sidewalk to honor Knotts last month.

Knotts, best known as the bumbling deputy on "The Andy Griffith Show" and would-be swinger Ralph Furley on "Three's Company," died Feb. 24, 2006. He was 81.

He had won five Emmy awards for the Fife role and appeared in more than 25 films and seven TV series. Knotts' last on-screen role was that of a television repairman whose supercharged remote control sends teenage siblings into a TV sitcom past in the 1998 film "Pleasantville."

In 2005, he provided the voice of Turkey Mayor in the animated Disney film "Chicken Little."

Knotts began performing while a student at Morgantown High School and had appeared at The Metropolitan Theatre before leaving for New York.

Pyles is a lifelong admirer. He attended the same grade school as the actor but was eight years behind. He remembers Knotts visiting with a ventriloquist's dummy to entertain the children.

Pyles said county and city officials also hope to collaborate on a small park along the Monongahela River, which runs parallel to a street that was renamed Don Knotts Boulevard.

That could cost another $75,000 to $100,000, he said, and would include a display of Knotts' hats, from the freshman beanie he wore at West Virginia University to his cap on "Three's Company" and his deputy's hat.

Last year, a North Carolina man who tried to honor Knotts with a statue of Barney Fife lost his $9,000 deposit on the project.

Paramount/CBS, which owns the rights to "The Andy Griffith Show" withdrew its approval, saying it didn't have the authority to grant permission for a likeness of Knotts.

Griffith and Knotts' widow, Francey, said they supported a statue, but that it should be of Knotts, not Fife. It was not immediately known if they approve of the Morgantown project.

The model of the statue intended for Mount Airy, N.C., was eventually destroyed.

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