Beloved CBS Icon Andy Griffith Dies; Oklahoman Ron Howard Remembers 'Pa'

Tuesday, July 3rd 2012, 10:37 am
By: News On 6


Actor Andy Griffith, whose portrayal of a rural sheriff in a popular 1960s TV show earned him the title of "America's Favorite Sheriff," died Tuesday morning. He was 86.

His death was confirmed in a statement from the Dare County, N.C., sheriff's office. Griffith died at his home on Roanoke Island, Dare County, N.C., at approximately 7 a.m.

CNN is reporting Griffith's body was buried just four hours later, during a private family service on his farm at 11:30 a.m.

"Andy Griffith passed away, after an illness ... Mr. Griffith has been laid to rest on his beloved Roanoke Island," a statement from Griffith's family said.

"Andy was a person of incredibly strong Christian faith and was prepared for the day he would be called Home to his Lord," the actor's wife, Cindi Griffith, said in a statement.

Upon hearing the news of the actor's death, native Oklahoman Ron Howard, who played Griffith's son "Opie" on The Andy Griffith Show, tweeted and also released a statement to, explaining: "His love of creating, the joy he took in it whether it was drama or comedy or his music, was inspiring to grow up around. The spirit he created on the set of The Andy Griffith Show was joyful and professional all at once. It was an amazing environment. And I think it was a reflection of the way he felt about having the opportunity to create something that people could enjoy. It was always with respect and passion for the opportunity and really what it could offer people in a very unpretentious and earthy way. He felt he was always working in service of an audience he really respected and cared about. He was a great influence on me. His passing is sad. But he lived and a great rich life."

CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports that while Griffith's long career stretched from nightclubs to radio to movies to music, it was a role as a small-town sheriff that made him beloved to millions of Americans.

Viewers tuned in to "The Andy Griffith Show" not to watch Sheriff Andy Taylor solve big crimes, but to watch him solve the little problems of life in the fictional Mayberry, N.C. Don Knotts played Deputy Barney Fife, and Jim Nabors portrayed Gomer Pyle, the gas pumper. Most critics consider the show, which ran from 1960 to 1968, one of the top four or five sitcoms ever shown on television.

CBS' "The Andy Griffith Show" was one of only three series in history to end its run at the top of the ratings. "I Love Lucy" and "Seinfeld" also bowed out on top. Griffith said he decided to end the show "because I thought it was slipping, and I didn't want it to go down further," reports The Associated Press.

Andrew Samuel Griffith was born June 1, 1926, in Mt. Airy, N.C., a town much like Mayberry. As a child, he sang and played slide trombone in the band at Grace Moravian Church. He originally wanted a career as a musician, but his skills as a storyteller, mixed in with lots of country humor, soon came out. His acting career started with the role of Sir Walter Raleigh in Paul Green's outdoor pageant, "The Lost Colony," in Manteo, N.C.

Griffith graduated with a degree in music from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1949. After graduation, he taught at a high school in Goldsboro, N.C., before moving to New York. He soon became a regular on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Steve Allen Show" in the 1950s. In 1955, he starred in Broadway's "No Time for Sergeants," earning him a Tony nomination for outstanding supporting actor. Two years later, Griffith made his film debut in "A Face in the Crowd," alongside actress Patricia Neal. In 1960, he found himself with another Tony nomination, this time for best actor in the musical, "Destry Rides Again," in 1960.

In 1972, Griffith started his own production company. Throughout the '70s, Griffith continued his TV and film career, appearing in 1975's "Hearts of the West" with Jeff Bridges. He relaunched his 1960s sitcom, rebranding it as the "The New Andy Griffith Show," in 1972. It lasted one year.

Griffith made a big return to television in 1986, playing the title role in the TV legal drama "Matlock, which aired until 1995.

In the 1990s, Griffith also appeared in TV movies, including "Scattering Dad" and "A Holiday Romance."

He made a guest appearance on "Dawson's Creek" in 2001 and played the diner owner in director Adrienne Shelley' 2007 film "Waitress," starring Keri Russell. In 2009, he played the role of Grandpa Joe in the movie "Play the Game."

Griffith never forgot about his music roots. He received a Grammy Award for best Southern, country or bluegrass gospel album for "I Love to Tell the Story: 25 Timeless Hymns," in 1997.

The actor has been plagued by health issues through the years, suffering a heart attack in 2000, which led to quadruple heart-bypass surgery. In 2007, he underwent hip surgery after a fall. Griffith also had Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that can cause sudden paralysis.

Griffith recently lost a good friend, actor George Lindsey, who starred on "The Andy Griffith Show." Lindsey died in May at age 83.

At the time, Griffith released a statement saying, "Our last conversation was a few days ago ... I am happy to say that as we found ourselves in our eighties, we were not afraid to say, 'I love you.' That was the last thing George and I had to say to each other. 'I love you.'"

Griffith was married three times. His first marriage to Barbara Edwards ended in divorce in 1972. They had two children, Sam, who died in 1996, and a daughter, Dixie. He was married to Solica Casuto from 1975-1981. Griffith wed his third wife, Cindi Knight Griffith, in 1983.

"She and I are not only married, we're partners," Griffith said of his wife in 2007, according to The Associated Press. "And she helps me very much with everything."

Griffith received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005.

In his 2005 speech, the president said, "Looking back on his Mayberry days, Andy explained the timeless appeal of the show. He said 'it was about love. Barney would set himself up for a fall, and Andy would be there to catch him.' The enduring appeal of the show has always depended -- and still does -- on the simplicity and sweetness and rectitude of the man behind the badge. TV shows come and go, but there's only one Andy Griffith."