Andy Griffith dies at 86 at his North Carolina home
BY MARTHA WAGGONER Associated Press
Wednesday, July 04, 2012
7/04/12 at 2:40 AM
RALEIGH, N.C. - Andy Griffith, who made homespun Southern wisdom his trademark as the wise sheriff in "The Andy Griffith Show" and the rumpled defense lawyer in "Matlock," died Tuesday. He was 86.
Griffith died about 7 a.m. at his coastal home in Manteo. He had suffered a heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2000.
Griffith's career spanned more than a half-century on stage, film and television, but he would always be best known as Sheriff Andy Taylor in the television show set in a North Carolina town not too different from Griffith's own hometown of Mount Airy, N.C.
Griffith set the show in the fictional town of Mayberry, N.C., where Sheriff Taylor was the dutiful nephew who ate pickles that tasted like kerosene because they were made by his loving Aunt Bee, played by the late Frances Bavier. He was a widowed father who offered gentle guidance to son Opie, played by Ron Howard, who grew up to become the Oscar-winning director of "A Beautiful Mind."
On "Matlock," which aired from 1986 through 1995, Griffith played a cagey Harvard-educated defense attorney who was Southern-bred and -mannered with a practice in Atlanta.
In his rumpled seersucker suit in a steamy courtroom (air conditioning would have spoiled the mood), Matlock could toy with a witness and tease out a confession like a folksy Perry Mason.
The character - law-abiding, fatherly and lovable - was much like Sheriff Andy Taylor with silver hair and a shingle.
"The Andy Griffith Show" was a loving portrait of the town where few grew up but many wished they did - a place where all foibles are forgiven and friendships are forever. Villains came through town and moved on, usually changed by their stay in Mayberry. That was all a credit to Griffith, said casting director Craig Fincannon, who met Griffith in 1974.
"I see so many TV shows about the South where the creative powers behind it have no life experience in the South," Fincannon said. "What made 'The Andy Griffith Show' work was Andy Griffith himself - the fact that he was of this dirt and had such deep respect for the people and places of his childhood. A character might be broadly eccentric, but the character had an ethical and moral base that allowed us to laugh with them and not at them. And Andy Griffith's the reason for that."
Griffith's career included stints on Broadway, notably "No Time for Sergeants." He also starred as the mood-swing-prone Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes in Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd." He was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts Hall of Fame in 1992 and in 2005, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the country's highest civilian honors.
"The Andy Griffith Show" was one of only three series in TV history to bow out at the top of the ratings. (The others were "I Love Lucy" and "Seinfeld.") Griffith said he decided to end it "because I thought it was slipping, and I didn't want it to go down further."
More recently, Griffith won a Grammy in 1997 for his album of gospel music "I Love to Tell the Story - 25 Timeless Hymns."
In 2007, he appeared in the independent film "Waitress," playing alongside Keri Russell as her character's cantankerous boss at the diner. The next year, he appeared in Brad Paisley's awarding-winning music video "Waitin' on a Woman."
Griffith was born in 1926 in Mount Airy and as a child sang and played slide trombone in the band at Grace Moravian Church. He studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and for a time contemplated a career in the ministry. But he eventually got a job teaching high school music in Goldsboro.
His acting career began with the role of Sir Walter Raleigh in Paul Green's outdoor pageant, "The Lost Colony," in Manteo. And he remained in the area even after superstardom knocked at his door.
Griffith protected his privacy by building a circle of friends who revealed little to nothing about him. Strangers who asked where Griffith lived in Manteo would receive circular directions that took them to the beach, said William Ivey Long, the Tony Award-winning costume designer whose parents were friends with Griffith and his first wife, Barbara.
When asked if the real Griffith was more wise like Sheriff Taylor or cranky like Joe, the diner owner in "Waitress," Griffith said he was a bit of both, and then some.
"I'm not really wise. But I can be cranky," he said. "I can be a lot like Joe. But I'm lot like Andy Taylor, too. And I'm some Lonesome Rhodes."
Original Print Headline: Beloved actor Andy Griffith dies at 86
Andy Griffith filmography
"The Andy Griffith Show" (1960-1968)
"Mayberry, R.F.D." (1968-1969)
"The New Andy Griffith Show" (1971)
"Washington: Behind Closed Doors" (1977 miniseries)
"Centennial" (1978 miniseries)
"Murder in Texas" (1981 TV movie; only Emmy nomination)
"A Face in the Crowd" (1957)
"No Time for Sergeants" (1958)
"Hearts of the West" (1975)
- COMPILED BY MICHAEL SMITH
Andy Griffith, whose homespun mix of humor and wisdom made "The Andy Griffith Show" an enduring TV favorite, died Tuesday at his home in Manteo, N.C. The star of stage, film and television was 86. Associated Press file
Don Knotts (left) as Deputy Barney Fife, Ron Howard as Opie Taylor and Andy Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor starred in "The Andy Griffith Show." Griffith died Tuesday at the age of 86. VIACOM / Associated Press file