‘The Andy Griffith Show’: How Did ‘Floyd the Barber’ Actor Howard McNear Die?

by Joe Rutland
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When it came to laughs on “The Andy Griffith Show,” no one could bring them out like actor Howard McNear. How did he die?

Well, he died on Jan. 3, 1969, at 63 years old from pneumonia as a result of a stroke. So let’s unpack some of the stories behind “Floyd the Barber,” McNear’s character.

He was hired as a cast member in 1961 and there are episodes where Floyd is standing behind Andy Taylor [Andy Griffith] cutting his hair. There are also scenes where he’s running in and out and all around his barbershop.

‘The Andy Griffith Show’ Star Suffered Stroke That Took Him Off Show

Sometime during “The Andy Griffith Show” being on CBS, McNear suffered a stroke. It affected the entire left side of his body. He would leave the series for nearly 18 months to recover.

When he returned, scenes would be shot where McNear is sitting down outside the barbershop or even inside it. He’s usually holding a paper in his left hand while making grand gestures with his right arm and talking.

“The Andy Griffith Show” kept McNear working. Here’s what Griffith, Don Knotts [Barney Fife], and Ron Howard [Opie Taylor] had to say about McNear in a 2003 interview.

“Howard McNear was a genius,” Griffith said.

“He sure was,” Knotts replied. “One of the funniest men that ever lived.”

“And he didn’t even seem to try,” Griffith said. “I don’t know where he discovered that character.”

Lead Actor Found Himself In Need Of Having Floyd As Part of Script

Howard described,”That halting, can’t-quite-finish-his-sentence, and then to come out with just that one little word. He would just sit in his own chair, his own barber chair, and everyone would gather around and a wonderful scene would unfold.”

How did Griffith get McNear back on “The Andy Griffith Show” after his stroke? He was in need of Floyd.

“Well, we had a script that wasn’t very funny,” Griffith said. “And we said, ‘Oh, if we just had one scene with Floyd.’ And we called up and his wife Helen said, ‘Oh, it would mean the world and all to him.’ So he worked with us for a year and a half.”

“The Andy Griffith Show” ran on CBS from 1960-68 for eight seasons. The show ended its run on the network at the No. 1 spot in the Nielsen ratings. That’s only happened with two other shows, “I Love Lucy” and “Seinfeld.”

Knotts and Frances Bavier [Aunt Bee] collected six Emmy Awards between them for their work on the show. Griffith did not win an Emmy himself nor did “The Andy Griffith Show” pick up Emmy gold itself. Nevertheless, the show remains popular to this day as people fall in love again with the little town of Mayberry and its citizens.

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