MOUNT AIRY, N.C. – Fans of Don Knotts, who played bumbling Deputy Barney Fife on "The Andy Griffith Show," still want a statue to honor him, despite legal problems that appear to have killed the project.
Tom Hellebrand and Neal Shelton, two fans of the '60s family comedy, were trying to raise $35,000 for a statue of Knotts in Mount Airy, model for the fictional town of Mayberry.
Paramount/CBS, which owns the rights to the series and its characters, initially granted permission for the statue. The company said last week it didn't have the authority to do so. Network lawyers said the Knotts estate doesn't want the statue built.
Shelton and Hellebrand say other Knotts fans have been encouraging them to move forward with the project, including organizing a letter-writing campaign to his survivors.
Hellebrand says he just wants to move on. He and Shelton are auctioning off a replica of a Mayberry squad car so they can refund $8,000 in donations used to pay a nonrefundable deposit for the statue.
"It's been emotional," Hellebrand says. "It brings back all the happy thoughts about why I moved to Mount Airy. I moved to Mount Airy to enjoy `The Andy Griffith Show' and fans.
"I'd like to get it behind me and move on. This is a hard thing to get behind you. You work so hard to do something like this, to honor a man like Don Knotts and to have the rug pulled out from under you is just devastating."
Mount Airy — Griffith's hometown — has a statue of the actor in character as Sheriff Andy Taylor walking with his son, Opie, played by Ron Howard.
"Is there not anything that can be done to appeal to the people who own these rights to impress on them that the Andy Griffith and Opie statues are not complete without Barney?" wrote Janie Faulkner of Franklinton.
"My son grew up with `The Andy Griffith Show' and is now 42 and watches the reruns every time they're aired. Barney was his favorite character."