Three Great Character Actors Gone in One Sad Weekend

by | February 28, 2006 | Comments

The traditional logic that says "famous people always die in threes" was backed up with a vengeance this past weekend as we lost a trio of talented, prolific, and well-admired character actors. Don Knotts, Darren McGavin, and Dennis Weaver all passed away over the weekend, which is sad news for movie fans the world over. We take solace in the fact that each man was more than 80 years of age when he died, and also that they all left behind a whole lot of movie-land memories.

Although best known as Barney Fife on "The Andy Griffith Show" and as Ralph Furley on "Three’s Company," Don Knotts was certainly no stranger to the silver screen. Following his debut in 1958’s "No Time for Sergeants," Don went on to appear in a string of comedies with titles like "The Incredible Mr. Limpet" (1964), "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken" (1966), and "The Reluctant Astronaut" (1967). Mr. Knotts appeared in a string of Disney comedies in the 1970s, including "The Apple Dumpling Gang" (1975), "Gus" (1976), and "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo" (1977). He also contributed a memorable supporting turn in 1998’s "Pleasantville" and just last year delivered a rather amusing voice performance in Disney’s "Chicken Little." The lovable comedian passed away at the age of 82.

Also best known for his work on the small screen (especially as "Kolchak: The Night Stalker"), celebrated character actor Darren McGavin put together an impressive big-screen reumé as the decades ticked by. Veteran of dozens of TV productions, Mr. McGavin is probably most beloved by moviegoers as the befuddled father figure in 1984’s "A Christmas Story," although he also added a rascally spark to films like "The Natural" (1984), "Raw Deal" (1986), "Dead Heat" (1988), and "Billy Madison" (1995). Mr. McGavin was a few months shy of his 84th birthday when he passed away.

After working mainly in Westerns throughout the 1950s and ’60s, Dennis Weaver had a career jolt in 1971 by starring in a TV movie that was written by Richard Matheson and directed by a first-timer named Steven Spielberg. "Duel" has since gone on to become a certifiable cult classic, thanks in large part to Mr. Weaver’s stellar performance as a mild-mannered nobody who’s pursued across the desert by an evil giant truck. Although the actor chose to stick mainly with television fare, he also did some fine work in films like "Touch of Evil" (1958), "The Gallant Hours" (1960), and "Duel at Diablo" (1966). Mr. Weaver was also 83 when he died.

(The pic is from "Hot Lead and Cold Feet" (1978), one of two Disney comedies in which Don Knotts and Darren McGavin co-starred. The other was "No Deposit, No Return" (1976). Thanks to Cinematical for digging up the vintage snapshot.)

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