An effort to honor Don Knotts has ended with the destruction of an unfinished clay sculpture of the actor’s most famous character, Deputy Barney Fife.
“I’m just tired and emotionally drained from the last few months. I put my heart and soul into the statue project and I’m just drained,” said Tom Hellebrand, the project’s prime backer. Hellebrand had commissioned the Fife statue after Knotts’ death in February at 81.
Hellebrand asked for the statue to be destroyed. He also said he’s selling his house and his restaurant in Mount Airy because of the strain caused by three months of trying to find a home for the work.
Knotts starred as Deputy Barney Fife on the ’60s sitcom “The Andy Griffith Show.” Hellebrand wanted the statue to stand in Mount Airy, which is Griffith’s hometown and the model for the show’s fictional Mayberry, N.C. The town already has a statue of Griffith in character as Sheriff Andy Taylor walking with his son, Opie, played by Ron Howard.
Work on the statue was halted after Paramount/CBS, which owns the rights to the TV show, withdrew its approval, saying it didn’t have the authority to grant permission for a likeness of Knotts.
Knotts’ widow, Francey, and Griffith, supported a statue, but said if the monument were in Knotts’ hometown of Morgantown, W.Va., it should be of Knotts, not of Fife.
Hellebrand then offered the half-finished work to anyone who could obtain the permission of CBS and the Knotts family to use it.
Now, he’s severing his ties with most things Mayberry, but will continue to live near Mount Airy.
He’s selling the Mayberry Kountry Kitchen in Mount Airy, though Hellebrand hopes to find a dedicated Mayberry fan who will keep the restaurant’s “The Andy Griffith Show” roots.