Andy Griffith, the beloved actor best known for his eponymous show, died Tuesday in North Carolina, the Associated Press reported. He was 86. President Obama issued a statement on the actor’s passing:
Michelle and I were saddened to hear about the passing of Andy Griffith this morning. A performer of extraordinary talent, Andy was beloved by generations of fans and revered by entertainers who followed in his footsteps. He brought us characters from Sheriff Andy Taylor to Ben Matlock, and in the process, warmed the hearts of Americans everywhere. Our thoughts and prayers are with Andy’s family.
Griffith’s character on “The Andy Griffith Show,” Sheriff Andy Taylor, was so beloved that viewers often conflated his on-screen persona with his real life. The show was based on Griffith’s experience growing up in North Carolina, and was a warm and loving portrait of small-town southern life. Wrote the AP:
“The Andy Griffith Show” was a loving portrait of the 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. That was all a credit to Griffith, said casting director Craig Fincannon of Wilmington, who met Griffith in 1974.
“I see so many TV shows about the South where the creative powers behind it have no life experience in the South,” Fincannon said. “All too often, they have a stereotypical perspective. What made ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ work was Andy Griffith himself — the fact that he was of this dirt and had such deep respect for the people and places of his childhood. A character might be broadly eccentric, but the character had an ethical and moral base that allowed us to laugh with them and not at them.
“And Andy Griffith’s the reason for that.”
Though Sheriff Andy Taylor will always be Griffith’s best-known role, Celebritology’s Jen Chaney remembered some of the actor’s other roles and accomplishments:
Griffith had a broader range as an actor; in addition to his second-most famous TV role — that of no-nonsense defense attorney Benjamin Matlock — he also tackled movie roles, most notably a star-launching dramatic turn as a drunkard who finds fame in Elia Kazan’s “A Face in the Crowd,” a critically acclaimed movie released three years before Griffith would settle in and start raising Opie in Mayberry.
Griffith also had a Grammy Award to his credit and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented to him by George w. Bush in 2005.
Film critic Ann Hornaday also praised Griffith’s movie work:
Although he’s best known as a television star, I urge you to consider his feature-film debut in Elia Kazan’s 1957 film, “A Face in the Crowd,” in which Griffith took the subversive risk of exploiting his folksy, good-natured persona to play a common man who becomes an early-media demagogue. (Any resemblance to present-day populist celebrities is purely prescient and on-point.)
Celebrities who worked with Griffith are mourning his loss, and posting their condolences to Twitter. Via Celebritology:
• Ron Howard: “Andy Griffith His pursuit of excellence and the joy he took in creating served generations & shaped my life I'm forever grateful RIP Andy”
• Morgan Spurlock: “RIP Andy Griffith, 1 of our most underrated actors, watch him as Lonesome Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd, my fave movie”
• Ralph Macchio: “Take a moment and whistle ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ theme today - finger snap optional - RIP Andy Griffith.”
• Slash: “RIP Andy Griffith. The next step after Mr Rogers. U were loved by all. iiii]; )'” all [sic]
Sports fans, too, are mourning Griffith by listening to his 1953 stand-up comedy bit, “What it Was, Was Football.” It sold 800,000 copies, and it was the gig that made Griffith a star. Listen to it at The Early Lead.