Tuesday, July 3, 2012

RIP Sheriff Andy

Today we lost one of the most beloved characters in American entertainment. Andy Griffith died Tuesday at the age of 86, his family said. In 1983, he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome -- a disorder that affects the nervous system. He bore his illness with grace, and continued to work as much as his condition would allow. Most of us remember Andy from "The Andy Griffith Show" in which he played the amiable sheriff of Mayberry, a small, idyllic town modeled on his own birthplace of Mount Airy, North Carolina. The show debuted in 1960 as a spin-off from a "Danny Thomas Show" episode in which Andy played the character for whom he would soon be remembered. He also starred as a murder-solving Southern attorney in the television series "Matlock" during the 1980s and 1990s.

While Andy's charming manner and humor was the key to the Mayberry series, he was shrewd enough to surround himself with a top notch cast of supporting players. Don Knotts was memorable as the Clint Eastwood wanna be, Deputy Barney Fife. Knotts brought a wonderful sense of zaniness to the show and his high-strung, flighty character was the perfect counterpoint to Griffith's drawling, laid back Sheriff. As with almost all successful sitcoms, other great characters rounded out the cast: Opie, Andy's young son, Aunt Bea, Gomer Pyle (soon to have his own spin-off show) Gomer's cousin, Goober, Floyd the barber, Otis Campbell, the town drunk, and the lovely Helen Krump, Andy's love interest. Together the cast played out little vignettes of small-town life in the American South.

For me, the key to the show's success, in addition to the talented cast and writers, was Andy's character. As a single Dad, he taught Opie by his example what it means to be a good person who tries to do the right thing. He suffered Barney's hair-brained schemes and grandiose ideas patiently without ever belittling his deputy's feelings. He was kind to all who crossed his path, but when the time came, he could also handle himself as the few bad guys who dared enter Mayberry would soon find out. He listened to all who sought him out and good-naturedly suffered Floyd's long, pointless stories, allowed Otis to sleep off his binges in Mayberry's usually empty jail cell, and always knew what to say when one of Aunt Bea's beaus disappointed her. 

Griffith graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1949 with a degree in music.After regular appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show," he appeared in the 1955 Broadway play "No Time for Sergeants," for which he received a Tony nomination. He later appeared in a film version of the play.  Andy was again nominated for a Tony in 1960 for the play "Destry Rides Again." He made his film debut in the critically acclaimed "A Face in the Crowd," in which he brilliantly portrayed a down-home country boy who rises to political power and corruption on a national stage. A member of the Television Hall of Fame, Griffith also was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 2007. His 1996 album, "I Love to Tell the Story -- 25 Timeless Hymns," went platinum and netted him a Grammy Award. (Info from CNN website.)

Actor and director Ron Howard, who played Griffith's son, Opie Taylor, on "The Andy Griffith Show," said he is "forever grateful" to the actor. "His pursuit of excellence and the joy he took in creating served generations and shaped my life," Howard said on Twitter. Thanks Sheriff Andy for so many years of wholesome family entertainment.


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