Beloved actor Andy Griffith dies at 86
FILE - This Oct. 28, 2003 file photo shows actor Andy Griffith sitting in front of a bronze statue of Andy and Opie from the "Andy Griffith Show," after the unveiling ceremony in Raleigh, N.C. Griffith, whose homespun mix of humor and wisdom made "The Andy Griffith Show" an enduring TV favorite, died Tuesday, July 3, 2012 in Manteo, N.C. He was 86. (AP Photo/Bob Jordan, File)
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Andy Griffith's gift to the show that bore his name wasn't just the homespun wisdom of the plain-spoken sheriff he played. It was the place he created: a small town where all foibles are forgiven and friendships are forever, full of characters who felt like family.
Mayberry, a fictional North Carolina village said to be modeled on Griffith's own hometown of Mount Airy, was so beloved that it practically became a synonym for any community that was too innocent and trusting for real life. After all, Griffith's Mayberry was a place where the sheriff didn't carry a gun, the local drunk locked himself in jail and even the villains who passed through were changed by their stay.
On "The Andy Griffith Show," he created an endearing portrait of a place where few people grew up but many wished they did.
Griffith, who died Tuesday at 86 at his North Carolina home, played a sage widower named Andy Taylor who offered gentle guidance to son Opie, played by little Ron Howard, who grew up to become an Oscar-winning director. Griffith inhabited the sheriff's "aw, shucks" persona so completely that viewers easily believed the character and the man were one.
"What made 'The Andy Griffith Show' work was Andy Griffith himself — the fact that he was of this dirt and had such deep respect for the people and places of his childhood," said Craig Fincannon, who runs a casting agency in Wilmington and met Griffith in 1974.
FILE - This Jan. 1983 file photo shows actor Andy Griffith posing in Los Angeles to promote his upcoming CBS-TV film, "Murder in Coweta County". Griffith, whose homespun mix of humor and wisdom made "The Andy Griffith Show" an enduring TV favorite, died Tuesday, July 3, 2012 in Manteo, N.C. He was 86. (AP Photo/Wally Fong, file)
A character on the show "might be broadly eccentric, but the character had an ethical and moral base that allowed us to laugh with them and not at them," he said. "And Andy Griffith's the reason for that."
Don Knotts, who died in 2006, was the goofy Deputy Barney Fife, while Jim Nabors joined the show as Gomer Pyle, the cornpone gas pumper. George Lindsey, who died in May, was the beanie-wearing Goober. The sheriff's loving Aunt Bee was played by the late Frances Bavier.
The show initially aired from 1960 to 1968 and never really left television, living on for decades in reruns. Almost 20 later, a reunion movie titled "Return to Mayberry" was the top-rated TV movie of the 1985-86 season.
The series became one of only three 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."