Mayberry had no psychiatrists, but the Andy Griffith Show cast were into mental health

Don Knotts and Andy Griffith saw psychiatrists — and even ribbed Don's doctor on the sitcom.

Read to Me

In "Barney's Sidecar," the overeager deputy gets carried away with his new motorcycle. Barney causes trucks to roar through downtown, tosses parking tickets like confetti, and even slaps Aunt Bee on the wrist for jaywalking. The townsfolk boil over. Even sweet Aunt Bee suggests violently clotheslining Barney on his bike. 

"I wish we had a psychiatrist in town," Andy bemoans to Aunt Bee.

It's a rare reference to mental health on The Andy Griffith Show, a show designed to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. (Well, outside of Barney constantly noting that Ernest T. Bass is "a nut.") There is another hidden reference to a psychiatrist, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Mayberry may not have had a psychiatrist but behind the scenes, the stars were advocates of mental health.

In 1977, Andy Griffith sat down for an interview with the Chicago Daily News Service to promote his latest project, the made-for-TV movie The Girl in the Empty Grave. In the decade following The Andy Griffith Show, The 51-year-old struggled to shake the stereotype of the folksy sheriff. Audiences could not sense where the character ended and the actor began. The journalist asked Griffith the difference between his real persona and Andy Taylor.

"I don't think he ever would have gone to a psychiatrist," Griffith explained. 

He opened up about his struggles with mental health and his gratitude for his doctor.

"I put my fist through a wall one day on the set and I started to back into the corner," Griffith confessed. (This is why you can see a cast on Sheriff Taylor in two episodes.) After the incident, the sitcom's producer, Aaron Rubin, sat down with its star. "Am I going crazy?" Andy asked his colleague and friend.

"No," Rubin said. He instead recommended that Andy see someone.

"It took me three years to realize that my marriage was driving me crazy," Andy said. "When I [left her], I never felt better." The piece went on to add, "Now Griffith sees a psychiatrist once in a while."

Meanwhile, his best pal, Don Knotts, was in a decades-long relationship with a noted Hollywood psychiatrist. The revealing biography Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show by Daniel de Visé, the brother-in-law of Knotts, lifted the curtain on the comedian's inner conflicts.

"By 1960, Don was hopelessly addicted [to sleeping pills]," de Visé wrote. "Don sought out Dick Renneker, a prominent Hollywood psychiatrist. Dick began seeing Don and quickly surmised what lay at the root of his maladies." Knotts was "still haunted by the childhood fears he was going to hell." 

Renneker helped Knotts kick the pills and find sleep.

"I'm convinced my dad wouldn't have made it [without Renneker's help]," Tom Knotts told de Visé. "He would have committed suicide or something."

Knotts clearly appreciated the work of Renneker. He and Andy made Renneker an honorary citizen of Mayberry. He turns up in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show — well, in a comical way.

In "The Shoplifters," just a few weeks after "Barney's Sidecar," Andy and Barney are sitting in the squad car people-watching. 

Dick Renneker gets a shout-out, misspelled in the subtitles.

"Howdy, Dick!" Andy hollers to someone off-camera. "Dick Renneker," he notes to Barney. Hey, a nice shout-out! Well, kind of. They then joke about his toupée. Extensively.

Renneker made headlines of his own. In July 1960, around the time he started seeing Knotts, Renneker was vacationing in Newport Beach, California. The doctor was enjoying a plate of swordfish when a suicidal man crept onto the ledge of a 10-story building nearby. 

Renneker left his meal and talked the man off the roof. How did he do it?

"You're ruining my dinner, you know that?" Renneker told the man. The guy came down from the roof.

"I lied to that fellow up there," Renneker confessed. "My dinner isn't ruined. It's only cold."

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bagandwallyfan52 6 days ago
Rest In Peace
Betty Lynn
Thelma Lou
The Andy Griffith Show
FLETCH 1 month ago
I know I'm in the minority here because I've mentioned this before and many people disagree with me and that's totally fine. Agreeing to disagree is what civil people do.

But I can't stand Ernest T. Bass! I won't watch any episode that he is in. He is terrible for my mental health
Zip FLETCH 1 month ago
That's totally fine with me, as well. Personally, I love Ernest T. I think he is a hoot and he added so much weirdness and complication to the town of Mayberry.
I still would have liked to have seen Ernest T actually join the military and get his own show like Gomer did. Can you imagine the chaos he would have caused and the hijinks which would have ensued?! He would have been like the anti-Gomer. Where Gomer was simple, polite and naive, Ernest would have been manic, uncouth and intense.
Could have been very entertaining. For a while anyway.
WGH 1 month ago
Maybe we shouldn't be joking about Ernest T. Bass and mental health issues when the article talks about Don Knotts being actually suicidal, and Andy Griffith being self-destructive due to mental health issues.

I think we should try to be respectful of what the article is trying to accomplish. That it's okay to seek help when you need it.

But I do agree that television and movies are a huge stress reducer for a lot of people in their lives. A form of escapism. But it's not enough for some people. That's when it's okay to get help.
LoveMETV22 WGH 1 month ago
The article seems to be a condensed version of the mental health of AG and DK with a little ETB for good measure. Not a bad story overall. Unfortunately AG and DK both had their issues and fortunately were able to overcome some of them.
NanC 1 month ago
I recommend the "Andy & Don" book. It's a very interesting read.
Beachel 1 month ago
Could Clara really play the organ? My vote is No.
Zip 1 month ago
"Mayberry had no psychiatrists"

Mayberry didn't need psychiatrists. Just living in Mayberry would have been therapy. At least for me.
It's too bad the actors couldn't find the same relaxation in Mayberry that we as viewers do. But I know that real life has a tendency to intrude.
I never knew Don Knotts feared that he was going to hell. That's sad to me. I hope he knew that repenting, believing in and trusting in Jesus Christ was all that he needed to avoid that fate.
ELEANOR Zip 1 month ago
I'm sure that he trusted in Jesus and suddenly there was an answer to his prayer which was to have sessions with Dick Renneker,
Zip ELEANOR 1 month ago
Could be.
Andybandit 1 month ago
Interesting story. Too bad about Don Knotts. He was a funny actor. Especially in Three's Company.
ELEANOR Andybandit 1 month ago
As I understand it, Don Knott's father fought some internal demons all of his life and made family life "interesting." It is truly amazing that Don was able to become a successful actor and in spite of his sleep problems, still was able to put all of that aside when the flapping board flapped and the camera rolled.
DanielZabo Andybandit 1 month ago
Yes I think that’s where Knots broke the mold of deputy Barney Fife with that role.
LoveMETV22 Andybandit 1 month ago
Not a bad story overall. I also liked Norman Fell and Audra Lindley on TC prior to Don Knotts. There are a few interesting backstories on the series:
Don Knotts was asked by TC producers to fill the role, no audition necessary.
Andy Griffith thought Don was awful on Threes Company.
Don backed Suzanne Somers salary increase request at the end of the 5th season, where she wanted the same salary as John Ritter, the network said no and her run on the show ended.
harlow1313 1 month ago
This is an interesting read, at least to me. It can be nice to speak openly to a non-judgmental other. In this madhouse world, It's a wonder we all aren't nutty as Ernest T.
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jdmoon49 Maverick66 1 month ago
Yes, he would have known the word balking. We used the word as a kid, talking about a cow balking to not go in the stall to be milked.
LoveMETV22 Maverick66 1 month ago
Just curious which episode did he say that in "I ain't talkin', I ain't talkin'. The more you're asking, the more I'm balkin'." I googled it and couldn't find it. Thanks
Maverick66 LoveMETV22 1 month ago
I'm pretty sure it was when he tried to join the Army. He kept breaking out of the jail & Andy asked, "How do you keep gittin' outta here?" Ernest T.'s response was that rhyme.
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