Andy Griffith dies at 86

Posted: July 04, 2012

Television star Andy Griffith has died at the age of 86, according to several reports.

Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie told WITN News that an ambulance was dispatched to Andy Griffith's home at 7 a.m. this morning. Doughtie confirmed the death to the station, as did former University of North Carolina President Bill Friday. The Associated Press is also reporting the death.

Griffith, 86, lived on Roanoke Island and was best known his role as "Sheriff Andy Taylor" on the "Andy Griffith Show" from 1960 to 1968, which was based on a fictional town of Mayberry. He also played a lawyer in "Matlock."

Ron Howard, who played Opie on the "Andy Griffith Show," issued a statement via Twitter : "His pursuit of excellence and the joy he took in creating served generations & shaped my life I'm forever grateful RIP Andy."

Griffith's show business career began after he earned a music degree from the University of North Carolina and went on to span more than a half-century. He drew on his roots for inspiration in both his early comedy, and for the setting of Mayberry, which was set in a town not too different from his childhood home of Mount Airy, N.C.

Griffith's career first took off after he recorded the comedic monologue "What It Was, Was Football." That led to his first national television exposure on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1954. Griffith's career included stints on Broadway, notably "No Time for Sergeants"; movies such as Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd"; and records.

In the drama "A Face in the Crowd," he starred as Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, a local jailbird and amateur singer who becomes a homespun philosopher on national television. As his influence rises, his drinking, womanizing and lust for power are hidden by his handlers.

But Griffith was best known to the public as the beloved, folksy sheriff of Mayberry with his homespun southern wisdom, and surrounded by such characters as the bumbling deputy, Barney Fife, played by the late Don Knotts, and ever-loving Aunt Bee played by the late Frances Bavier.

"The Andy Griffith Show" was a portrait of a 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.

"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."

When asked in 2007 to name his favorite episodes, the ones atop Griffith's list were the shows that emphasized Knotts' character. Griffith and Knotts had become friends while performing in "No Time for Sergeants," and remained so until Knotts' death in 2006 at 81.

"The second episode that we shot, I knew Don should be funny and I should play straight for him," Griffith said. "That opened up the whole series because I could play straight for everybody else. And I didn't have to be funny. I just let them be funny."

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.

Griffith once said Matlock was his favorite role.

Griffith 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 Associated Press contributed to this article

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