BY: MARTHA WAGGONER | ASSOCIATED PRESS Tuesday, Jul 3, 2012 1:44 PM
Editor’s Note: see below story for other people in the spotlight that died in 2012.
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — it was all too easy to confuse Andy Griffith the actor with Sheriff Andy Taylor, his most famous character from “The Andy Griffith Show.”
After all, Griffith set his namesake show in a make-believe town based on his hometown of Mount Airy, N.C., and played his “aw, shucks” persona to such perfection that viewers easily believed the character and the man were one.
Griffith, 86, died Tuesday at his coastal home, Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie said in a statement.
“Mr. Griffith passed away this morning at his home peacefully and has been laid to rest on his beloved Roanoke Island,” Doughtie told the Associated Press, reading from a family statement.
Although he acknowledged some similarities between himself and the wise sheriff who oversaw a town of eccentrics, they weren’t the same. Griffith was more complicated than the role he played — witnessed by his three marriages if nothing else.
But that perception led people to believe Griffith was all that was good about North Carolina and put pressure on him to live up to an impossible Hollywood standard.
He protected his privacy in the coastal town of Manteo, by building a circle of friends who revealed little to nothing about him.
Strangers who asked where Griffith lived would receive circular directions that took them to the beach, said William Ivey Long, the Tony Award-winning costume designer whose parents were friends with Griffith and his first wife, Barbara.
Craig Fincannon, who runs a casting agency in Wilmington, met Griffith in 1974. He described his friend as the symbol of North Carolina.
That role “put heavy pressure on him because everyone felt like he was their best friend. With great grace, he handled the constant barrage of people wanting to talk to Andy Taylor,” Fincannon said.
In a 2007 interview with the Associated Press, Griffith said he wasn’t as wise as the sheriff, nor as nice. He described himself as having the qualities of one of his last roles, that of the cranky diner owner in “Waitress,” and also of his most manipulative character, from the 1957 movie “A Face in the Crowd.”
“But I guess you could say I created Andy Taylor,” he said. “Andy Taylor’s the best part of my mind. the best part of me.”
Griffith had a career that spanned more than a half-century and included Broadway, notably “No Time for Sergeants;” movies such as Elia Kazan’s “A Face in the Crowd”; and records.
“No Time for Sergeants,” released as a film in 1958, cast Griffith as Will Stockdale, an over-eager young hillbilly who, as a draftee in the Air Force, overwhelms the military with his rosy attitude. Establishing Griffith’s skill at playing a lovable rube, this hit film paved the way for his sitcom.
He was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts Hall of Fame in 1992 and in 2005, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the country’s highest civilian honors.
His television series resumed in 1986 with “Matlock,” which aired through 1995.
On this light-hearted legal drama, Griffith played a cagey Harvard-educated attorney who was Southern-bred and -mannered with a leisurely law practice in Atlanta.
Decked out in his seersucker suit in a steamy courtroom (air conditioning would have spoiled the mood), Matlock could toy with a witness and tease out a confession like a folksy Perry Mason.
This character — law-abiding, fatherly and lovable — was like a latter-day homage to Sheriff Andy Taylor, updated with silver hair and a shingle.
In short, Griffith would always be best known as Sheriff Taylor from the television show set in a North Carolina town not too different from Griffith’s own hometown of Mount Airy.
In 2007, Griffith said “The Andy Griffith Show,” which initially aired from 1960 to 1968, had never really left and was seen somewhere in the world every day. a reunion movie, “Return to Mayberry,” was the top-rated TV movie of the 1985-86 season.
Griffith set the show in the fictional town of Mayberry, N.C., where Sheriff Taylor was the dutiful nephew who ate pickles that tasted like kerosene because they were made by his loving Aunt Bee, played by the late Frances Bavier. His character was a widowed father who offered gentle guidance to son Opie, played by little Ron Howard, who grew up to become the Oscar-winning director of “A beautiful Mind.”
Don Knotts was the goofy Deputy Barney Fife, while Jim Nabors joined the show as Gomer Pyle, the cornpone gas pumper. George Lindsey, who played the beanie-wearing Goober, died in May.
Griffith and Knotts had become friends while performing in “No Time for Sergeants,” and remained so until Knotts’ death in 2006 at 81.
Knotts’ widow, Francey Yarborough Knotts, said in a statement Griffith was in good spirits when she spoke with him June 1, his birthday.
Nabors said he saddened to hear the news at his home in Honolulu.
“I talked to Andy a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “I really don’t know what to say. It’s very personal.”
“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.
The show became one of only three series in TV history to bow out at the top of the ratings (The others were “I love Lucy” and “Seinfeld.”). Griffith said he decided to end it “because I thought it was slipping, and I didn’t want it to go down further.”
His quiet public life didn’t prevent Griffith from exhibiting a fine sense of humor. Both Long and Fincannon recalled Griffith’s sneaky tendency to show up unexpectedly. In 1974, Fincannon was an actor in the outdoor drama, “The Lost Colony,” where Griffith had gotten his start in acting decades earlier.
“He would sneak into the choir and stand and sing as a choir member in the show, and people in the audience had no idea,” Fincannon said.
When Long and his two siblings were grand marshals in the Manteo Christmas parade, Griffith showed up in his 1932 roadster convertible to drive them. no one recognized Griffith, wearing glasses and a knit cap, until he said “Merry Christmas” to the crowd, Long said.
When asked in 2007 to name his favorite episodes, the ones atop Griffith’s list were the shows that emphasized Knotts’ character.
“The second episode that we shot I knew Don should be funny and I should play straight for him,” Griffith said. “That opened up the whole series because I could play straight for everybody else. And I didn’t have to be funny. I just let them be funny.”
Griffith’s generosity toward his castmates paid off richly for those fellow actors, particularly Knotts.
Sheriff Taylor was ever-indulgent with the twitchy, bug-eyed Deputy Fife, and loved joshing with him just for good sport. the result was five supporting-actor Emmys for Knotts.
“What are the state police gonna think when they get here and find we got an empty jail?” rants Barney in one episode, as always worried about appearances. “They’re gonna think this is just a hick town where nothing ever happens!”
“Well, now,” Taylor says calmly, “you got to admit: That’s about the size of it.
Letting others get the laughs was something of a role reversal for Griffith, whose career took off after he recorded the comedic monologue “What it was, was Football.”
That led to his first national television exposure on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1954, and the stage and screen versions as the bumbling draftee in “No Time for Sergeants.”
In the drama “A Face in the Crowd,” he starred as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a local jailbird and amateur singer who becomes a homespun philosopher on national television. As his influence rises, his drinking, womanizing and lust for power are hidden by his handlers.
“Mr. Griffith plays him with thunderous vigor,” the New York Times wrote. the Washington Post said, “He seems to have one of those personalities that sets film blazing.”
Griffith said Kazan led him through his role, and it was all a bit overwhelming for someone with, as he put it, just “one little acting course in college.”
“He would call me in the morning into his little office there, and he’d tell me all the colors that he wanted to see from my character that day,” he recalled in 2007.
“Lonesome Rhodes had wild mood swings. He’d be very happy, he’d be very sad, he’d be very angry, very depressed,” he said. “And I had to pull all of these emotions out of myself. And it wasn’t easy.”
His role as Sheriff Taylor seemingly obliterated Hollywood’s memory of Griffith as a bad guy. But then, after that show ended, he found roles scarce until he landed a bad-guy role in “Pray for the Wildcats.”
Hollywood’s memory bank dried up again, he said. “I couldn’t get anything but heavies. It’s funny how that town is out there. they see you one way.”
More recently, Griffith won a Grammy in 1997 for his album of gospel music “I love to Tell the Story — 25 Timeless Hymns.”
In 2007, he appeared in a critically acclaimed independent film, “Waitress,” playing Joe, the boss at the diner. the next year, he appeared in Brad Paisley’s awarding-winning music video “Waitin’ on a Woman.”
“Few people in this world will ever have more influence on our lives than Andy Griffith,” Paisley said in a statement. “An actor who never looked like he was acting, a moral compass who saved as many souls as most preachers, and an entertainer who put smiles on more faces than almost anyone; this was as successful a life as is pretty much possible.”
Griffith stepped back into his Sheriff Taylor role in 2008 when he appeared in a pro-Barack Obama campaign video directed by Howard and featuring the former child star chatting with Griffith and other former TV colleagues.
Griffith was born June 1, 1926, and as a child sang and played slide trombone in the band at Grace Moravian Church. He studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and for a time contemplated a career in the ministry. But he eventually got a job teaching high school music in Goldsboro.
His acting career began with the role of Sir Walter Raleigh in Paul Green’s outdoor pageant, “The Lost Colony,” in Manteo. the pageant was about Raleigh’s failed attempt to establish an English colony on Roanoke Island, where Manteo is located.
Griffith helped Long’s father build the house where the family lived in a community of bohemian artists with little money, sharing quart jars of homemade vegetable soup with each other.
He and his first wife, Barbara Edwards, had two children, Sam, who died in 1996, and Dixie. His second wife was Solica Cassuto. Both marriages ended in divorce. He married his third wife, Cindi Knight Griffith, in 1983.
“She and I are not only married, we’re partners,” Griffith said in 2007. “And she helps me very much with everything.”
Griffith also suffered over the years with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that can cause sudden paralysis. In 1987, he told the Associated Press that he wore plastic leg braces during the making of “Return to Mayberry.”
“I’ve stopped wearing the braces,” he said then. “They squeaked and the soundmen could hear them. I took them off and never put them back on. I have pain, but I’m 100 percent OK. But the pain’s been with me so long I almost don’t notice it.”
He had suffered a heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2000.
Other people in the spotlight who died in 2012
Best known for his role as “Goober”on the Andy Griffith Show, the actor passed away after battling an undisclosed illness. He was 83.
TV host and producer, who left an indelible mark on the entertainment world by way of American Bandstand and his annual Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. He died of a massive heart attack. He was 82.
Actor, best known for his role as general store owner Sam Drucker on Green Acres. His other TV credits include Petticoat Junction, the Beverly Hillbillies and the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. He died at the age of 96.
Legendary newsman, best known for his years as a hard-hitting reporter on CBS’ 60 Minutes, passed away at the age of 93.
The My Three Sons star, composer and former Mouseketeer died at age 68 after reportedly battling cancer.
The guitarist and singer was one of the pioneering artists of roots-conscious Americana. He recorded more than 50 albums and won seven Grammy Awards. He was 89
The 48-year-old singer and multi Grammy-winning artist ironically died on the eve of the musical award show that had meant so much to her over the years.
The singer, who became the breakout heartthrob of the Monkees, died after suffering a heart attack. He was 66. the Monkees also had a TV series.
At 75, the Soul Train creator and host shockingly committed suicide at his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif.
Kathryn Joosten died from lung cancer. Joosten was known for playing the president’s secretary on the TV series “The West Wing,” and Ms. McCluskey on “Desperate Housewives.” she was 72.
He costarred in the popular TV series “Hogan’s Heroes,” and was the host of the TV game show “Family Feud.” He was 79.
Two weeks after the “At Last” singer’s doctor announced she was terminally ill, the 73-year-old jazz and R&B legend passed away due to complications from leukemia.
Longtime drummer of classic rock band the Doobie Brothers died of cancer at the age of 65.
Funny lady best known for starring in the ’90s UPN sitcom Moesha and its spinoff the Parkers as well as for roles in such flicks as Friday and House Party 2 and House Party 3, died of cervical cancer. she was 48.
Songwriter Robert Sherman and his writing-partner brother Richard won Academy Awards for their work on “Mary Poppins” and contributed songs and scores to many other films. the brothers wrote irresistibly upbeat songs that spoke to everyday people. “You can’t help but smile when you sing or hum a Sherman brothers song,” film critic Leonard Maltin said. above, Robert Sherman, right, with his brother Richard, Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in 1963. He was 86.
The former Fleetwood Mac guitarist was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Nashville. He had been suffering from health problems prior to his death and left a suicide note. He was 65.
Jan Berenstain and her husband, Stan, published their first Berenstain Bears book in 1962. Three hundred titles about the family of bears that deal with everyday problems appeared, as well as videos and TV shows. she was 88.
John Levy was an accomplished bassist who transitioned to the business side of jazz, guiding the likes of Cannonball Adderley, George Shearing and Nancy Wilson. He was 99.
During a six-decade career, Joe Paterno transformed sleepy Penn State University into a national football power, creating a legacy that no one thought could be beaten — or tarnished. His career ended mired in scandal less than two weeks after he recorded his 409th career victory, a major-college football record. He was 85
The director of landmark sitcoms followed his acclaimed work on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” with “All in the Family.” His credits over an almost 50-year career also included “Gunsmoke,” “The Twilight Zone” and “MacGyver.” above, Rich, right, with Norman Lear in 1973 when they won an Emmy for outstanding series for “All in the Family.” He was 86.
Marie Colvin was legendary in journalism, a fearless war correspondent driven to depict the effects of conflict on civilians. she had covered multiple wars and often wore a black eye patch, having lost her left eye while covering civil strife in Sri Lanka. she was killed in the central Syrian city of Homs. she was 56
The prolific stage and screen actor, whose credits ranged from playing Brick in the original Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to costarring with Patrick Swayze in 1989′s Road House, died of pancreatic cancer at 81.
The rhythm-and-blues pioneer, who produced the original version of “Hound Dog” for Big Mama Thornton and had a huge solo hit with “Willie and the Hand Jive,” died after being in poor health for several years. He was 90.
British stage and screen actor best known for playing Elaine Benes’ eccentric boss, Mr. Pitt, on Seinfeld, died from complications of kidney failure after being diagnosed with lymphoma. He was 77.
The banjo legend had a distinctive three-finger playing style that became the touchstone for thousands of instrumentalists who followed. With Lester Flatt, he played the “Beverly Hillbillies” theme. Later he teamed with his sons. above, Scruggs, right, with Flatt, left, perform with their band the Foggy Mountain Boys. He was 88
Vocalist for famed Philadelphia disco band the Trammps, best known for their hit “Disco Inferno,” died of complications from Alzheimers. He was 74.
The actor, best known for playing Juan Epstein—one of Gabe Kaplan’s “star” pupils—in Welcome back, Kotter, died after an apparent heart attack at the age of 60.
The celebrated screenwriter and director passed away at age 71 after battling leukemia. He work included Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail and Julie & Julia, among many other movies.
The celebrated conceptual designer behind Star Wars died at 82. He also worked on the visuals for E.T. and Close Encounters of the third Kind, and in 1986 he won an Academy Award for visual effects for Cocoon.
The guitarist and bandleader who famously fronted an eponymous group in the 1970s that featured future Van Halen frontman Sammy Hagar on vocals, died of cancer at 64.
The Bee Gees singer lost his battle with colon cancer. He was 62.
Charles “Skip” Pitts
The revered soul guitarist, whose known for his iconic guitar riff for the “Theme From Shaft,” died after a battle with cancer. He was 65.
The one-time drummer for Australian pop group Crowded House, whose hits included ’80s mainstays like “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” died after battling brain cancer. He was 45.
The Band’s legendary singer and drummer passed away after battling throat cancer. He was 71.
The Scottish actor and musician was best known for playing Merlin in Excalibur. He was 73.
The prolific actor, who’s perhaps best known for costarring with Kirk Douglas in the 1980 sci-fi flick the Final Countdown as well as playing George Clooney’s estranged dad on ER, died of heart failure. He was 73.
The Gone With the Wind actress, who played Scarlett O’Hara’s younger sister Carreen in the 1939 film, died at age 94.
The influential banjo player, who was a founding member of the family band the Dillards and subsequently brought attention to bluegrass music, passed away from lung cancer. He was 75.
The last surviving member of the Platters’ five original members. Reed was the only member of the Platters to perform on all of their nearly 400 recordings. their hits included “Only You” and “The great Pretender.” He was 83.
The Grammy-winning singer who helped define the disco era with such hits as “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls” died after reportedly battling cancer. she was 63.
The guitarist and singer, who became known as the godfather of the subgenre of funk music referred to as Go-Go, died from multiple organ failure as a result of sepsis. He was 75. His biggest hits included “Bustin’ Loose” and “We Need Some Money.”
Donald “Duck” Dunn
Legendary bass player, who lent his talents to such hits as “Soul Man” and “Respect,” died in his sleep in Tokyo. He was 70.
The sci-fi writer had more than 27 novels and 600 short stories which included “The Martian Chronicles” and other works. He was 91.
Adam “MCA” Yauch
The Beastie Boys rapper lost his almost three-year battle with cancer. He was 47 years old.
Best known for his work on “Dynasty,” the acclaimed fashion designer put a bra-less Farrah Fawcett in a see-through blouse for “Charlie’s Angels,” Tina Louise in a slinky nude-beige evening dress for “Gilligan’s Island” and Elizabeth Taylor in violet gowns for her “Passion” perfume commercials. He was 79.
Best known for her Oscar-nominated supporting role as a blowsy barfly in the 1972 movie “Fat City,” Tyrrell’s film credits also included “Islands in the Stream,” “Angel,” and “Cry-Baby.” she was 67.
The Cuban fighter was a three-time Olympic heavyweight champ. He was 60.
Nicknamed “Kid” for his grit and youthful exuberance, Gary Carter was an 11-time all-star who hit .262 with 324 home runs and 1,225 runs batted in during 19 seasons playing for the Montreal Expos, the New York Mets, the San Francisco Giants and the Dodgers. He helped lift the Mets to a dramatic victory over the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series. He was 57.
The star linebacker at USC and for his hometown San Diego Chargers made the Pro Bowl 12 years in a row and was voted All-Pro 10 times. He apparently ended his life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 43.
Born Thomas Austin Preston Jr., the colorful and quotable Amarillo Slim won the World Series of Poker in 1972 and began promoting the game on TV and in books. He brought the game “out of the back alleys,” one expert said. He was 83.
Classically trained, Jonathan Frid portrayed the charismatic vampire Barnabas Collins on the campy daytime soap opera “Dark Shadows.” He “brought a very gothic, romantic quality” to the part, the series’ creator said. He was 87.
The self-styled “Painter of Light” created romantic, idealized images of landscapes, lighthouses and country cottages with windows aglow. But despite Thomas Kinkade’s astonishing commercial success with luminous seascapes and paintings of cottages and street scenes, his life was neither serene nor simple.
The pioneering TV movie producer formed one of the first female producing teams in Hollywood, breaking ground for women in the industry. she focused on personal stories and worked on the acclaimed 1978 movie “Hustling,” about the life of a prostitute. she was 84.
He changed women’s styles with his sleek, geometric cuts, popularized the hand-held blow dryer and helped launch the age of the signature hair salon. He was 84.
The children’s book illustrator and writer radically changed the genre with tales of outsized monsters and frolicsome humor that tapped into the fears of childhood. He also collaborated on numerous operas, films and TV programs. He was 83.