The world lost a great icon today, and that man was Andy Griffith. It has been reported that he passed away in his home in North Carolina this morning at the age of 86. He has had various health problems recently including Guillain-Barre syndrome and suffered from a heart attack in 2000.
In the year 1960, Griffith began starring in The Andy Griffith Show. In this comedy he played the Sheriff of the sleepy Mayberry County. He was joined by his bumbling deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts) who was usually around to wreck some sort of havoc. When looking at the show, I think you can say that it was just an All-American, great television show. The characters were simple, but funny, and I doubt you can find an American over the age of 30 that can’t whistle the catchy theme song.
The show was a major television hit as it gained critical acclaim and popularity, and it never ranked below number seven in the Nielsen ratings in its entire run. While Griffith himself was never nominated for an Emmy, which I find to be a complete and utter shock, Don Knotts and Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee) both won for their supporting roles in the series. However, many think that this could have been because Andy Griffith was so natural in the role of Sheriff Andy Taylor, that no one actually believed he was acting, because the character was just who he was. In my eyes, there could actually be no bigger honor. I also have to give a nod to The Andy Griffith show for giving us a little actor named Ron Howard. Howard played Sheriff Taylor’s son Opie on the show, and while Opie oftentimes got in to trouble and caused Taylor much strife, it was the relationship between the father and son that was so kindly and brilliantly portrayed that partially made the show and characters so famous. No matter what kind of trouble Opie got in, he always knew his father would be there for him and love him.
Andy Griffith decided to end The Andy Griffith show in 1967. Don Knotts had already left the show to go work on other projects, and Griffith felt like he wanted to do the same, especially in film. That didn’t work out for him so well, and it wasn’t until 1980 that he yet again, found another iconic and starring role, and that was the role of Matlock. The show again starring Griffith as the titular character can be considered one of the best television legal dramas of all time. The format of the series was similar to Perry Mason in that Matlock wasn’t just a lawyer, he and his team were also investigators. In order to prove the innocence of their clients they would go out and find the real killer and then of course Matlock would set his client free after some courtroom drama. It was a brilliant and entertaining series that stands up to this day. In fact, I think it is still probably playing in re-runs somewhere right now.
After nine seasons,Matlock ended in 1995 and Griffith went on to appear in several movies and television shows and even reprised the role of Matlock in two episodes of Diagnosis Murder. Most recently, he gained critical acclaim for his role as Old Joe in the film Waitress starring Keri Russell. He was a curmudgeonly old man who becomes one of Jenna’s (Russell) friends at the diner, and ultimately helps her get what she wants and needs after she is kind to him. It was great to see him on screen again, and that scene with the two of them dancing just melts my heart.
It usually would be an actor’s dream to be able to inhabit and portray one iconic character on television, but for Andy Griffith there was not just one. He has played two incredibly and extremely well known characters in American pop culture and thus became an icon himself, and for that he will always be remembered and never forgotten. Rest in Peace, Mr. Griffith.