Tag Archives: death

The Shocking and Forgotten Suicide of Don Knotts

On June 30, 1963, comedic actor Don Knotts shot himself in the head with a .38 caliber revolver during the live airing of The Ed Sullivan Show.

Ironically, at the conclusion of the opening monologue, Sullivan remarked, “I’m really excited about tonight’s show. I think everyone is going to be talking about it around the water cooler in the morning.” At the time, everyone that heard the words simply thought it was just vapid self-promotion. Everyone that is, except for Knotts, listening to a feed of the show backstage in the green room.

The show began normally. The first segment featured, a trained poodle act from Waukesha, Wisconsin that performed various flips, ball tricks, and riding tricycles while Stars and Stripes Forever played.

Witnesses said they saw Knotts out of the dressing room, pacing around backstage chain smoking. When asked if something was wrong, Knotts just called it “anticipation”, saying he “just want[ed] to get on with it”.

Knots was scheduled to reprise his Barney Fife character in a skit where Ed Sullivan gets stranded in Mayberry, followed by a brief interview.

Coming back from commercial, the show opened with a whistling bars of the Andy Griffith show, and a facsimile of police station set from the show. Knotts in his Barney Fife costume sat with his feet up on a desk and his hat pulled down over his face. Stage left, a door opened and Ed Sullivan walked in. Sullivan delivered his first line, “Excuse me. My car has broken down, and I was wondering if you could help me.” Knotts simply stood up and walked over to Sullivan and muttered something that the microphones couldn’t catch.

Sullivan looked a bit confused and repeated his line. Knotts looked disinterested, delivered some setup lines, allowing Sullivan to cue up the first big joke of the skit. Instead of delivering the punchline, Knotts said, “I’m not a clown.” Sullivan, visibly confused, repeated his line, and again, louder this time, Knotts said, ” I am not a clown.”

Sullivan, now angry, demanded Knotts say the scripted line. Instead, Knotts drew the revolver he had as part of his costume. He unbuttoned his breast pocket and pulled out two bullets, and proceeded to load the revolver.

Everyone in the theater was quiet. Sullivan eventually asked, “Are.. Are those real bullets, Don?”

“Oh yeah. Bought them myself. They’re the real deal.”

Sullivan put his arms out and tried to calm Knotts. Saying that no one was hurt, so everything would be fine, if he’d just put the gun down.

Instead of calming the situation, Knotts became more agitated. “I am not a clown. Do you understand that? I AM NOT A CLOWN!”, Knotts shouted.

The camera zoomed in on Knotts. He said he was tired of everyone thinking he was just a bumbling idiot. People on the street confusing his characters for him. Casting directors constantly casting him for the what is essentially the exact same role: The Clown. Tears welling up, he said he wanted to do drama. He wanted respect. “I did Shakespeare! Not Malvolio or Dogberry! I was King Lear! I was a good King Lear.”

He collected himself, took a deep breath, and then simply said, “I am not a clown.” He quickly raised the gun to his temple. Off camera, a man shouted, “Don! No!” Knotts repeated, “I am not a clown,” and pulled the trigger.

The crowd screamed, and camera spun and tilted. Quickly, the camera returned to Knotts’s body lying on the stage. Sullivan was standing next to him looking on in shock. Stagehands quickly gathered around Knotts’s body. After a few seconds, someone in a headset stepped in front of the camera while brandishing a clipboard in like a shield. As he moved towards the camera, he angrily shouted, “Turn the goddamn cameras off!”, before pushing the camera off from the image. The broadcast switched to a silent still title slide for the show. The smiling of caricature Ed Sullivan a gross mockery of the nightmare that has just unfolded live on national television.

Across the Eastern a Central time zones, CBS affiliates struggled to fill the dead air. Some stations tried to find kinescopes of literally anything. Cleveland’s WOIO aired an episode of the Dick Van Dyke show. Boston’s WBZ ironically aired the Andy Griffith show. New York’s WCBS just ran the silent slide for the rest of the hour. By the time the show was scheduled for the Pacific and Mountain time, a previous episode of the Ed Sullivan show was prepared and aired.

That night, CBS chief Hubbell Robinson ordered the kinescope of the episode destroyed. Without recordings, and general shifting of social tastes, Knotts and his suicide was forgotten.

The episode was considered lost until 1996, when surviving kinescope film was found in an attic in Saugatuck, Michigan.

Save the Males


This is the most powerful piece of art as social commentary I’ve come across in a while.

Via Andrew Fishman’s tumblr:

Every year, millions of male chicks are killed, usually by gas or by feeding them into a high-speed shredder. It is inefficient to raise males to adulthood, as they cannot lay eggs. Tinkerbell [aka Looove Tinkerbell], an artist and advocate for animal rights, decided she had to speak out against this.

In 2007, she purchased 61 male chicks (pictured above) from one of these facilities and brought them into a gallery along with a shredder. She announced that they were for sale, and that the ones that were not purchased by the end of the sale would be fed into the shredder. By the end of the sale, less than a dozen had sold. When it became clear that the artist was not bluffing, the gallery owner purchased the rest. The gallery owner was unable to care for them herself, so she gave them to the police, who gave them to a shelter, who gave them back to the original farm, where they were shredded.

Unsurprisingly, Tinkebell has received hundreds of thousands of emails and letters about this and other pieces. However, that the mail would be directed at her is an interesting phenomenon. She did not kill any of the chicks; in fact, she offered a chance to save them. Perhaps it was her willingness to kill them in public that was so offensive; we like to pretend situations like this don’t exist.

I would compare this to the “Trolley Problem” in psychological research. The “Trolley Problem” is a hypothetical scenario in which a person is able to pull a lever, redirecting a train from one track on which lies five people to one on which one person lies. Most respondents would pull that lever.

The “fat man” variation is more troubling for most. This variation specifies that a person is able to slow a train down by pushing a fat man onto the train tracks, which would slow it down before reaching the five people on the tracks. Practically, the scenarios are equivalent (one person dies to save five) but it feels very different. The difference is in the act itself. We are fine with allowing people to die, but killing is another story, even if the end result is exactly the same.

I think that this active/passive dichotomy is why Tinkebell receives so much hatred from the animal rights community. As a society, we’re more accepting of a company that kills millions of chicks every year than a woman who gave the opportunity to save a few dozen before returning them to their fate.

The Trolley Problem is an interesting comparison, and I do think there’s something to this line thinking, but when I read about this I immediately thought of executions instead. The idea that these chicks would be tossed live into a wood chipper isn’t what offended the gallery owner, it’s that the were going to be tossed into the wood chipper in front of an audience.

Executions, or to use a less euphemistic term: state sanctioned homicide, were performed in town squares in front of large audiences since the beginning of time. No doubt to spread fear and to intimidate the populous. Eventually, these spectacles became entertainment. (On a personal note, my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Fuller, talked about her father and a friend of his attended the the hanging of Charlie Birgir. It was the big event in Southern Illinois, and they left early and brought a picnic lunch in order to get a good spot. She wanted to go too, but her father wouldn’t let her. Apparently watching a man die wasn’t appropriate for a little girl.) This is unseemly. The “carnival in Owensboro” has been credited with ending public executions in the United States. Now in the “civilized” world where the practice continues, they’re performed behind closed doors with only few witnesses. In Japan, executions occur in secret. In China, the occur behind prison walls with rarely more than only prison officials watching. “Barbaric” societies on the other hand, like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, North Korea, Taliban Afghanistan, and other areas ruled by warlords have audiences. Don’t burn someone at the stake. Don’t behead them. Don’t bash someone’s head in with a rock. Don’t hang them. Make it photogenic. Make it look like they’re just falling asleep. Don’t make us face the cruel truth of what we do and allow to happen. And above all, don’t make us face the ugly reactions to this in our society. We’re civilized and better than blood thirsty savages.

This is a delusion, and Tinkerbell called society out on it.

Previously. Previously. Previously.

A Statement from the Hoffa Family

My name is Michael Crancer. C-R-A-N-C-E-R. I have been asked by the Hoffa family to read statement to the media. There will be no questions at this time.

This morning at 10:13 am Eastern time, James Riddle “Jimmy” Hoffa died peacefully in at Western Regional Hospital in Belmopan, Belize. He was surrounded by his children James Junior, and Barbara.

Thank you.

Nah. It’s just the same ol’ same ol’.