Andy Griffith Dies at Age 86
Andy Griffith, one of television's most treasured icons, passed away at the age of 86. Here's hoping they're biting in heaven's fishing hole. Griffith may be gone, but we will always have Mayberry, the rural haven that Griffith's Sheriff Andy Taylor presided over with a firm hand, country smarts, and down-home charm.
If you grew up in the 1960s, I'll bet you couldn't help but get a little verklempt once Earle Hagen's timeless, finger-snapping The Andy Griffith Show theme kicked in during Ron Howard's hilarious and heartwarming 2008 "call to action" for Barack Obama, in which Howard, clad as Opie, was reunited with his TV dad. In 2004, TV Guide ranked Andy Taylor TV's eighth greatest patriarch. Only eighth? Watch the Season Three episode "Mr. McBeevee" in which Andy's unshakable faith in his son is rewarded when Opie's suspect imaginary friend turns out to be a real person. Andy should have been much higher in the standings. As the rock solid anchor of that show, Griffith should also at least have been nominated for an Emmy, but he was snubbed throughout the show's eight top-rated seasons. It was up to the TV Land Awards to recognize him and his show with its coveted Legend Award in 2004.
With Andy Tayor and foxy, folksy Southern lawyer Matlock under his belt, Griffith's legacy is secure, but there are some fascinating aspects to his career that might get lost in the outpouring of tributes. Griffith got his start as a comedian, a sort of hillbilly monologist. His most famous routine was "What it Was Was Football," in which a rube unwittingly attends his first football game. He adapted other routines, such as his re-telling of "Romeo and Juliet," for The Andy Griffith Show. He was also a fine dramatic actor, exploring the dark side of the strapping, gregarious country boys he so indelibly embodied. A career benchmark is A Face in the Crowd, in which he portrays Lonesome Rhodes, a drifter who becomes a dangerously powerful TV demagogue. In 1981, he was nominated for his only Emmy for his sinister turn in Murder in Texas. Griffith kept working over the course of his more than 50 year career. In 2007, he earned accolades for a rare big screen appearance as a curmudgeonly diner owner in the sleeper hit Waitress. There are so many ways to celebrate his career. The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock are available on DVD. His comedy and gospel music recordings are out on CD. He wrote his autobiography, I Appreciate It: My Life, scheduled for publication in 2010. But let's end this on a characteristically modest and touching grace note, Brad Paisley's 2009 music video, in which Griffith, as a sage, overalls-bedecked elderly gent, offers an impatient Paisley advice on "Waitin' on a Woman." --Donald Liebenson