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Actor Andy Griffith dies in North Carolina at 86

(Reuters) - Actor Andy Griffith, whose portrayal of a small-town sheriff made "The Andy Griffith Show" one of television's most enduring shows, died on Tuesday at his North Carolina home at age 86.
/ Source: Reuters

(Reuters) - Actor Andy Griffith, whose portrayal of a small-town sheriff made "The Andy Griffith Show" one of television's most enduring shows, died on Tuesday at his North Carolina home at age 86.

"At approximately 7 a.m., July 3, 2012, Andy Griffith passed away at his home on Roanoke Island, Dare County, North Carolina. The family will release further information shortly," county Sheriff J.D. Doughtie said in a written statement.

Griffith created another memorable character, the folksy defense lawyer in "Matlock" in the 1980s and 1990s, but it was his role as Sheriff Andy Taylor on the "The Andy Griffith Show" in the 1960s that gave him a place in television history.

The show depicted life in the friendly, slow-moving fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina, which was widely believed to have been based on Griffith's own hometown, Mount Airy, in that state.

There was little crime to fight in Mayberry so the stories centered on the sheriff and his interactions with the quirky townspeople.

"The basic theme of our show was love," Griffith said in a 2003 interview with CNN. "All the characters loved each other. And all the actors loved each other, too."

The show, a situation comedy, was an entertaining diversion for viewers to the social and political upheavals of the 1960s.

"It was at a point where America was really in turmoil," executive producer John Watkin told USA Today. "'The Andy Griffith Show' and Mayberry represented in some sense this kind of idealized view of what America was. It contains such a heart, such a sense of community."

Some said Griffith's Mayberry was too sanitized with none of the strife generated by the anti-war and civil rights protests of the time. In fact, there were no regular black characters on the show.

"We tried in every way to get that to happen but we were unable to do it," Griffith told USA Today in discussing Mayberry's all-white population.

Griffith was born June 1, 1926, and had ambitions of being a preacher. At the University of North Carolina he earned a degree in dramatic arts in 1949 and started performing in singing groups.

A RUBE WATCHING FOOTBALL

He first made a name with a comedy recording, "What It Was, Was Football," a spoof of a rube trying to follow the action at his first football game. That led to an appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," and from there Griffith starred in both the stage and film versions of "No Time for Sergeants."

He made a big impact as a dramatic actor in his first movie, 1957's "A Face in the Crowd," playing a scheming drifter whose aw-shucks persona catapults him to success as a television show host until his dark side was exposed.

Griffith later played a small-town sheriff in a television episode of "The Danny Thomas Show," which led to "The Andy Griffith Show."

Don Knotts, who had appeared with Griffith in the stage and screen versions of "No Time for Sergeants," had seen "The Danny Thomas Show" episode and suggested the sheriff would need a deputy in a full-fledged TV series. He came aboard and his portrayal of bungling Barney Fife won Knotts five Emmy awards.

"When Don joined the show, by the second episode, I knew that Don should be funny and I should play straight for him," Griffith told CNN.

The Griffith-Knotts friendship endured until Knotts' death in February 2006.

In addition to trying to keep his overeager deputy in line, the widowed sheriff in "The Andy Griffith Show" tended to his young son, played by Ron Howard, who would become a successful actor and Oscar-winning director.

The show ran from 1960 until 1968, the year it reached No. 1 in television rankings. Griffith decided to leave that year, and the show continued without him using new characters and a new name, before being canceled in 1971.

But "The Andy Griffith Show" has lived on ever since in syndication and on cable television, creating a cottage industry of fan clubs, websites and memorabilia.

Griffith spent most of his later years in the Atlantic Coast town of Manteo, North Carolina.

He often recorded and won a Grammy award in 1996 for a gospel album.

Griffith was married three times, most recently to Cindi Knight in 1983. He had two children

(Reporting by Jane Sutton; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Eric Beech and Philip Barbara)