Beloved actor Andy Griffith dies at 86

Actor Andy Griffith in Toluca Lake, Calif. Griffith, whose mix of humor and wisdom made “The Andy Griffith Show” an enduring TV favorite, died July 3. He was 86.

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 at about 7 a.m. at his North Carolina coastal home, Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie said in a statement.

"Mr. Griffith passed away this morning at his home peacefully and has been laid to rest on his beloved Roanoke Island," Doughtie told The Associated Press, reading from a family statement.

Griffith had suffered a heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2000.

Griffith's career spanned more than 50 years 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 an Oscar-winning director.

Griffith's "pursuit of excellence and the joy he took in creating served generations and shaped my life," Howard tweeted. "I'm forever grateful."

On "Matlock," which aired from 1986 through 1995, Griffith played a cagey Southern-bred, Harvard-educated defense attorney with a practice in Atlanta.

In a 2007 interview with The Associated Press, Griffith said "The Andy Griffith Show," which initially aired from 1960 to 1968, was seen somewhere in the world every day. A reunion movie, "Return to Mayberry," was the top-rated TV movie of the 1985-86 season.

Richard O. Linke, producer of the "The Andy Griffith Show," said the show was "all Andy Griffith."

"We knew we had something. We knew there were other areas other than New York, Chicago and L.A. We knew that the vast land of America, that this is what they would like," Linke said. "I used to say: If he's a hillbilly, he's the hippest hillbilly I ever met."

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. He was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts Hall of Fame in 1992, and in 2005 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"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 Don Knotts' character, Deputy Barney Fife. 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."

Letting others get the laughs was something of a role reversal for Griffith, whose career 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, and the stage and screen versions as the bumbling draftee in "No Time for Sergeants."

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.

His role as Sheriff Taylor seemingly obliterated Hollywood's memory of Griffith as a bad guy. But after that show ended, he found roles scarce until he landed a bad-guy role in "Pray for the Wildcats."

Hollywood's memory bank dried up again, he said. "I couldn't get anything but heavies. It's funny how that town is out there. They see you one way."

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 the 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, whose parents were friends with Griffith and his first wife, Barbara.

Griffith and Barbara Edwards had two children, Sam, who died in 1996, and Dixie. His second wife was Solica Cassuto. Both marriages ended in divorce. He married his third wife, Cindi Knight Griffith, in 1983.

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 Lonesome Rhodes."

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