He was a vocalist, an actor, a stand-up comic, a producer and once even a schoolteacher, but we knew him best for creating the mythic Mayberry, a Camelot in bib overalls where home-spun wisdom reigned.
He was Andrew Samuel Griffith, but we knew him best as Andy. He died Tuesday at age 86 in Manteo.
Hollywood director Ron Howard, whose formative years were spent on the set of The Andy Griffith Show as Opie, the precocious son of the small-town sheriff Andy Taylor.
In the landmark series about family values that entertained millions in the 1960s and thrives five decades later in syndication, their father-son relationship was one of the few that wasnt played just for laughs.
In an unusually serious episode that stretched the dramatic range of television comedy in 1963, Opie killed a mother bird with a slingshot and was forced by his father to listen the cries of her hungry chicks.
Opie then raised the birds himself and, at episodes end, let them fly off, leading to an epilogue emblematic of the shows fundamental optimism.
Cage sure seems awful empty, dont it Pa? observed Opie.
Yes son, it sure does, replied sheriff Taylor. But dont the trees seem nice and full?
Deep Tar Heel roots
Griffith was born in Mount Airy on June 1, 1926, son of Carl and Geneva Griffith. He took a liking to music and learned to play the trombone at 16.
Despite a so-so academic record, he was industrious, earning enough money sweeping the high school after classes to buy a bass horn and guitar.
He went on to UNC Chapel Hill and majored in music, taking five years to get his degree in 1949. He taught school for three years in Goldsboro.
Lanky and handsome, his head thick with wavy black hair, he found summer work at the outdoor drama The Lost Colony in Manteo. Griffith played Sir Walter Raleigh from 1949 to 1953 and also appeared on the dinner club circuit as comedian and singer.
Motoring one evening down the then-pastoral N.C. 54 from Chapel Hill to a 1953 appearance in Raleigh, Griffith was struck by an inspiration that would ignite his career.
He dreamed up a comic monologue about a country bumpkin mystified by a game where you try to run across a cow pasture without getting hit or stepping in something.
It got big laughs and Griffith spun to fame on a phonograph needle.
What It Was Was Football sold a million copies. It got him on Ed Sullivan. And it established Griffith as a southern comedic voice, leading to a role as the hillbilly recruit in the TV production of No Time for Sergeants and then the same role on Broadway, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award.
What It Was, Was Football
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