Don's mother was 40 at the time of his birth and his father suffered from mental illness; he had a nervous breakdown due to the stress of Don's birth. Afflicted with schizophrenia and alcoholism, he sometimes terrorized Don with a knife, causing Don to turn inward at an early age. The elder Knotts died of pneumonia when Don was 13 years old. Don and his three brothers were then raised by their mother, who ran a boarding house in Morgantown. She died in 1969 at age 84. Her son William preceded her in death in 1941 at age 31. They are buried in the family plot at Beverly Hills Memorial Park in Morgantown. Don graduated from Morgantown High School. After enlisting in the United States Army and serving in World War II, Don earned a bachelor's degree in education with a minor in speech from West Virginia University in Morgantown, graduating in 1948. He was a member of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity and Alpha Psi Omega Honor Society while at WVU.
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