Actor Andy Griffith has died at the age of 86 of an undisclosed illness. He was laid to rest on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, his favorite place on Earth. It was also the state of his birth, and the place where his best known TV series, The Andy Griffith Show, was set.
He began his career at the University of North Carolina where he majored in music and was active in the school’s drama program. That in spite of the fact when he’d begun attending college he planned to study to be a preacher.
He was a comedian at first, but eventually starred on Broadway, earning multiple Tony award nominations. One of the plays he was in, No Time For Sergeants, became a film and introduced him to one of his long-time collaborators, Don Knotts. Knotts played a corporal in the movie version.
A role as a county sheriff on Danny Thomas’ showMake Room for Daddy was really a pilot episode for The Andy Griffith Show and his most iconic role as “Andy Taylor,” sheriff of Mayberry. A small town where everyone knew everyone else and the town drunk, Otis, could be trusted to sleep it off in the town’s tiny jail. With Knotts as his inept deputy “Barney Fife” (the two were cousins on the show), Sheriff Taylor dispensed justice and homespun wisdom, almost never wearing a gun.
While we all remember the show’s theme being whistled, there were actually words to the tune, known as “The Fishin’ Hole.”
After 8 seasons, Griffith left the show to work in feature films while there was still a year on his contract. CBS actually continued the show, renaming it “Mayberry RFD” and casting Ken Berry as the lead, but Griffith continued to work on the show as executive producer and made occasional appearances as Andy Taylor. The show ended in 1971 when CBS cancelled all of its “rural” programming, but there were three reunion projects involving Griffith.
Griffith also tried returning to TV around that time, appearing in The New Andy Griffith Show where this time he was Andy Sawyer, a small-town boy who returned home. The town was much larger than Mayberry and this time he was mayor, not sheriff, but the show only lasted 13 episodes.
He didn’t actually do much feature film work but he did do a number of TV movies that were other attempts to launch a successful series. Finally in 1986, nearly 20 years after he’d quit his own show, he got another. This time he portrayed an unconventional but wise Southern lawyer named Benjamin Matlock. Matlock ran from 1986 to 1995.
Comedian, actor and singer (he actually had a platinum album), Andy Taylor was a very accomplished man and his iconic character of Andy Taylor will be long-remembered.