On This Day: ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ Star Andy Griffith Dies in 2012

by Suzanne Halliburton
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On this day a decade ago, Andy Griffith took his final breath. It was a Tuesday. The classic TV star died at about 7 a.m. And wanting no fuss or fancy ceremony, his family buried him later that day.

Still, this nation mourned the death of Andy Griffith, who charmed them as a small-town North Carolina sheriff and as a folksy lawyer. And fans still are pausing today to remember this man, who is kept alive every day when someone switches on The Andy Griffith Show, a cornerstone of the classic TV genre.

The Andy Griffith Show Twitter account remembered the man who played Sheriff Andy Taylor, father of Opie, nephew of Aunt Bee and friends to the likes of Barney, Gomer, Goober, Floyd and Otis in the fictional town of Mayberry.

“Most of us never met him, but this man plays an important role in our lives,” the fan account rep wrote on Twitter. “He’s taught us many things, like honesty, integrity, and friendship, and we visit him and his friends when we need joy and comfort. Andy Griffith died on this day in 2012, yet he lives on forever.”

The 86-year-old even was mourned by presidents. Barack Obama issued a statement saying: “A performer of extraordinary talent, Andy was beloved by generations of fans and revered by entertainers who followed in his footsteps.”

Griffith enjoyed such popularity that he had bi-partisan love. Seven years before his death, then-President George W. Bush honored the actor with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In a White House ceremony, Bush draped the medal around Griffith’s neck. The declaration for the honor — Griffith demonstrated “the finest qualities of our country and for a lifetime of memorable performances that have brought joy to millions of Americans of all ages.”

George W. Bush presented Andy Griffith with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

When he was younger, Griffith assumed he’d be a preacher. But he changed his mind and earned a degree in music from the University of North Carolina. How did he move from preaching to singing to acting? Well, it took a while to make the jump. One reason why Andy Griffith played such an authentic person on screen is that he was an unassuming man off of it. After all, he started his adult life as a high school music teacher. He and his wife, Barbara, who he met at UNC, eventually headed to New York. Griffith appeared on Broadway, earning two Tony nominations. But he also developed a comedy routine.

In 1960, The Andy Griffith Show premiered on CBS. However, TV viewers first saw Sheriff Andy in an episode of The Danny Thomas Show, which served as a backdoor pilot for the eventual TV classic. The show ran from 1960 through 1968. And it never lost its audience. The show finished its run as the No. 1 show in the country. It never ranked lower than seventh in the national ratings. Griffith’s friend, Don Knotts, played his sidekick and deputy, Barney Fife. And ordinary folks, albeit all eccentric, were the stars.

Andy Griffith, Don Knotts and Ron Howard (John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Andy Griffith also will forever be linked with Matlock, a legal drama that premiered in 1986. Griffith’s character was a southern lawyer. The series became appointment viewing on Tuesday nights.

Griffith also still maintained a love for music. His gospel album won a Grammy Award in 1997. His last TV work was an Andy Griffith reunion show in 2003. At the time of his death, he was living on Roanoke Island, North Carolina.

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