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article imageCherished American treasure Andy Griffith's immortality

By M.D. Anderson     Jul 4, 2012 in Entertainment
After suffering from an undisclosed illness, American icon Andy Griffith has died in his native North Carolina at 86.
But the good works of this legendary actor, producer, writer, comedian, musician, singer and philanthropist will live on for the ages.
Yesterday the world lost a special artist, a true gentleman, an esteemed mentor and a beloved friend. Lauded Broadway, television and film star Andy Griffith passed away peacefully at his Manteo, North Carolina home. He was lain to rest shortly after his death on what his family described in a formal statement as “‘his beloved Roanoke Island.’”
Cindi Knight Griffith, Andy’s wife of 29 years, said of her loss, as chronicled by the Andy Griffith Museum shortly after the venerable star’s passing, “‘Andy was a person of incredibly strong Christian faith and was prepared for the day he would be called Home to his Lord. He is the love of my life, my constant companion, my partner, and my best friend. I cannot imagine life without Andy, but I take comfort and strength in God’s Grace and in the knowledge that Andy is at peace and with God.’”
CNN reports that the television icon best known for his work as Andy Taylor, the world-wise, ever-affable, small-town sheriff of Mayberry, based on Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy, N.C., succumbed to “an unspecified illness” at approximately 7 a.m. Ironically, Griffith’s death was confirmed by another sheriff — Dare County’s J.D. “Doug” Doughtie. Long-time Griffith family friend and former University of North Carolina president Bill Friday respectfully released word of his friend’s passing to NBC affiliate WITN News in Washington, N.C.
According to The Internet Movie Database (Imdb), the celebrated actor’s actor shot 249 episodes of his three-time, Emmy-nominated series, “The Andy Griffith Show,” from 1960 to 1968. In addition to his Tony-nominated Broadway turns in the military comedy “No Time for Sergeants” and musical western “Destry Rides Again,” Griffith appeared in 11 feature films, including celebrated director Elia Kazan’s classic, realist-fantasy yarn, A Face in the Crowd, the 1957 film penned by Kazan collaborator and fellow, On The Waterfront Oscar winner, Budd Schulberg.
Griffith played Larry ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes, a severely unstable drifter — discovered accidentally while playing his guitar by a no-name, Arkansas radio producer — who captures American hearts and becomes an overnight television sensation before sundry personal demons trigger his untimely career suicide. In a New York Times Magazine interview, Griffith intimated he was so entirely immersed in his character’s reality that his craft affected his marriage. He said, “‘You play an egomaniac and paranoid all day and it’s hard to turn it off at bedtime.’”
Earlier in 1957, Andy’s first year in Hollywood, he made his television debut with a small-yet-colorful role in “The Steve Allen Plymouth Show.” For the next 52 years, Griffith enjoyed an acclaimed, multidimensional career in television and film, performing in dozens of TV movies and series, including an unforgettable, 9-year, 181-episode run as title character — an ultra-likable, unerringly kind but deceptively cunning prosecutor — of NBC's, and later ABC’s, popular, legal drama “Matlock.” Griffith gave his final performance in the 2009 film Play the Game as Grandpa Joe, a world-wise grandfather and undaunted widower, also the marital status of Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor, the highly relatable character which made Griffith a household name. As reported in The New York Times, the actor’s Andy Taylor ranked eighth on TV Guide’s 2004 list, “50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time.”
Despite mass popularity and his industry-wide reputation as a gifted and versatile actor, Griffith never won an Emmy Award, though he was nominated for his role in the television movie Murder in Texas. His “Andy Griffith Show” castmates Frances Bavier, as Aunt Bee Taylor, and Don Knotts, as Deputy Barney Fife, each won for their performances — Bavier once and Knotts five times. According to The New York Times, Griffith owned a 50% share of the series — allowing him marked, creative influence over the show’s development — and “not only threw himself into creating a textured persona for [his character], but also helped write almost every episode — though he didn’t receive writing credit.” Of his “Griffith Show” role, the artist admitted he worked tirelessly developing Sheriff Taylor because he wanted his audience “to believe in the character,” and a healthy average of 35 million viewers tuned in to laugh and learn with him every week — undeniable evidence of Mr. Griffith’s brilliant success.
Ron Howard, visionary producer and two-time, Oscar-winning Director of A Beautiful Mind — who was then a callow, child actor credited as “Ronny Howard”— played Griffith’s on-screen son, Opie Taylor, for 209 episodes from 1960 to 1968. Yesterday Howard remarked on the passing of his co-star, friend and mentor, writing, “Andy Griffith: His pursuit of excellence and the joy he took in creating served generations and shaped my life. I’m forever grateful. [Rest in peace,] Andy.”
Directly due to Andy’s contributions, the “Griffith Show” never fell from the Nielsen Top Ten during its 8-year run and was 1968’s number one in its final season — after Griffith announced he would be moving on to other projects. CBS owned Monday nights with the series for the bulk of the 1960s, and Griffith will forever be immortalized in each of its episodes, for as long as filmed entertainment exists. A testament to his high moral quality and palpable personal grace, Newsweek has said of the actor, “There isn’t a more likable personality around than Andy Griffith.”
For continual, exemplary achievement during his distinguished career, Andy Griffith was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 1992.
Through all the years of his success, Griffith never forgot his roots, nor did he lose sight of his inauspicious start as a small-town boy from rural North Carolina. The uncommonly humble icon told USA Today in 1993, “I know how to write and I know how to act. I’m just not good at anything else.” As The New York Times’ Douglas Martin thoughtfully reminded us yesterday afternoon, “even at the peak of his popularity, [Griffith] drove a Ford station wagon and bought his suits off the rack,” further proof of the actor’s unparalleled humility. Imdb confirms that, not-so-coincidentally, both of Griffith’s most famous characters — Andy Taylor and Ben Matlock — owned Ford automobiles.
What Mr. Griffith neglected to mention, perhaps because of his famously golden modesty, was that he also passionately loved music and knew its history and fundamentals exceptionally well. He even taught the art, as well as English, at North Carolina’s Goldsboro High School, leaving his position, as documented in a Saturday Evening Post interview, after “three frustrating years.”
Andy was also an inspired vocalist endowed with a grand, multi-octave, baritone-bass range and a distinctively brassy tone. In addition, he developed profound affection for brass-section instruments and — beginning in his high school days, when he took private lessons from a Mt. Airy minister and band leader — was an accomplished trombonist. He would later add the guitar, among other instruments, to his repertoire. His vocal talent is starkly evident on 1996’s I Love to Tell the Story: 25 Timeless Hymns, a critically praised, gospel album, certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on June 10, 1998. The collection earned Griffith a 1996 Grammy Award for Best Southern Gospel Album.
As Entertainment Weekly’s Tanner Stransky wrote yesterday, Griffith was a great dreamer — an aspiring musician; minister; opera singer and comedian. Andy turned to acting after earning his Bachelor of Arts in music from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and he fell in love with performance.
The genuinely human actor, producer, writer, comedian, musician and singer will be missed by everyone fortunate enough to have experienced the authenticity of his art; the unending generosity in his charitable work with organizations like the Outer Banks Conservationists and the Griffith Scholarship Fund at UNC Chapel Hill; and the simply eloquent kindness he perpetually displayed in his everyday life.
Early yesterday CNN reported the reaction of North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue. In a solemn statement on the entertainment icon’s death, Governor Perdue said, “North Carolina has lost its favorite son.” She added, “Throughout his career, he represented everything that was good about North Carolina.”
Likewise, President Obama responded to Griffith’s death with an overwhelmingly reverent tribute. The President called Andy Griffith “A performer of extraordinary talent,” declaring, “Andy was beloved by generations of fans and revered by entertainers who followed in his footsteps.”
Also noted by CNN, during his 2005 presentation, President George W. Bush conferred upon Griffith the United States' highest civilian honor, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, in light of his remarkable entertainment career, for “demonstrating the finest qualities of our country and for a lifetime of memorable performances that have brought joy to millions of Americans of all ages.”
The New York Times reported that Griffith’s self-proclaimed, proudest honor came in 2002, when his home state named a ten-mile stretch of North Carolina highway after him. Three years later on November 7, 2005, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom.
Andrew Samuel “Andy” Griffith, only child of Carl Lee and Geneva Nunn Griffith, was born on June 1, 1926, the same day as another fallen American icon, Marilyn Monroe. He has lived a full, faithful, accomplished, extraordinarily honorable life. Andy Griffith is no longer with us in flesh, but his legendarily warm, graceful and generous spirit — as well as his luminous, indelible contributions to humanity and art — will outlive us all.
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