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TV actor best known as Mayberry's sheriff dies at 86

Andy Griffith, 1926-2012

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Terri Mingle, left, and Kristi Troutt photograph, from left, Spencer Troutt, Sydney Paseman and Justin Troutt at the statues depicting TV characters Andy and Opie Taylor in Raleigh, N.C.

Andy Griffith, whose folksy portrayal of the wise and good-humored sheriff of Mayberry in the classic 1960s comedy "The Andy Griffith Show" made him one of television's most beloved stars, died Tuesday at age 86.

A former North Carolina high school music teacher, Griffith launched his career as an entertainer in the early 1950s by writing and performing comic monologues for civic clubs that he delivered in an exaggerated Southern drawl that was once described as "sounding like three yards out on a Carolina swamp."

He was already a star, with rave reviews on Broadway in "No Time for Sergeants" and in Elia Kazan's film "A Face in the Crowd," when "The Andy Griffith Show" made its debut in the fall of 1960.

The cast included Ronny Howard as the widowed sheriff's young son, Opie, and Frances Bavier as his matronly Aunt Bee. Don Knotts played the incompetent but full-of-bravado Deputy Barney Fife. The series quickly became one of the decade's most popular shows and ran for eight seasons. After the show ended, while still at the top of the ratings, it lived on in a spinoff series, endless reruns and even Sunday school classes organized around its rustic moral lessons.

Griffith was heavily involved with the show's production and helped shape scripts and characterizations.

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.

Decades later, Griffith experienced another round of TV popularity starring as a crafty Atlanta defense attorney on "Matlock."