Miss Knight was born in Gossell, Kansas the 5th of July 1936.
She spent her young life in Mitchell, Kansas and later lived in Lyons, Kansas where she graduated from high school. She attended Phillips University, Enid, Oklahoma, Wichita State University, and has a Doctor of Fine Arts Degree from Lake Forest College. She began studying to be an opera singer at age eleven.
After studying at the Pasadena Theatre School she began her film career in 1959. She then went to New York and began her theatre career. She studied acting with Jeff Corey and Lee Strasberg and is a member of The Actor’s Studio. She has received many honors from her home state of Kansas, including the Kansan of the Year award in 2000 and the Governor's Distinguished Artist Award in 2007. Both were given to her by Governor Kathleen Sebelius.
Miss Knight was married to the writer John R. Hopkins until his death in 1998.
She has two daughters, Kaitlin Hopkins and Sophie C. Hopkins. Kaitlin is an actress-singer-director and Sophie a writer. Shirley lives in New York City.