On this day in 2012, Andy Griffith, famous for his role as the good-hearted, small-town sheriff of fictional Mayberry, North Carolina, on the iconic 1960s TV sitcom “The Andy Griffith Show,” dies at age 86 at his North Carolina home. The actor also was known for his starring role in the 1980s-1990s TV drama “Matlock,” in which he portrayed a shrewd Atlanta defense attorney.
Andrew Samuel Griffith was born on June 1, 1926, in Mount Airy, North Carolina. He majored in music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduating in 1949. Griffith went on to teach school for several years before finding success as a stand-up comedian. In 1957, he made his feature film debut in the critically acclaimed drama “A Face in the Crowd,” starring, in a serious role, as a drifter who becomes a manipulative, power-hungry celebrity.
“The Andy Griffith Show” premiered in the fall of 1960 and quickly became a hit. Griffith played the amiable Sheriff Andy Taylor, a widower raising his young son Opie, played by Ron Howard (now a successful Hollywood director, whose credits include “A Beautiful Mind” and “The Da Vinci Code”). Set in the small, idyllic community of Mayberry (based on Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy), the show included an ensemble of eccentric characters such as bumbling Deputy Barney Fife (played by Don Knotts), prim Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier), gas-station attendant Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors), Floyd the barber (Howard McNear) and Otis the town drunk (Hal Smith). The folksy sitcom, memorable for its whistled theme song, which played over opening credits featuring Andy and Opie on their way to go fishing, continues to air in reruns. Additionally, the program spawned the TV shows “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” (1964-69) and “Mayberry R.F.D.” (1968-71).
During the 1970s and 1980s, Griffith appeared in several short-lived TV series and various made-for-TV movies before again finding success in the legal drama “Matlock,” which originally aired from 1986 to 1995. The actor’s final role was in the 2009 feature film “Play the Game.” Also in 2009, the Andy Griffith Museum opened in Mount Airy. The TV legend died of a heart attack on July 3, 2012, at his home on Roanoke Island in North Carolina.