Musician. Monologist. Actor. Mostly a stalwart friend and defacto father figure for a lot of latch key kids like myself with his self-titled classic television program, The Andy Griffith Show.
Yesterday, July 3, 2012, the proud son from Mount Airy, North Carolina, shuffled off this mortal coil, and forever into the history books of cinema and TV. An only child, who originally intended to become a Moravian preacher, Griffith soon discovered the arts and a love for both theater and music. A jack of all trades entertainer, it's hard in hindsight to call Griffith any one thing. He was a comedian. He was a Grammy winning music artist, racking up awards for his Southern Gospel work. He was a star of both the television screen and stage, with No Time For Sergeants (which was of course later remade as a feature film, co-starring his future deputy in Mayberry). He was a serious actor, who made an earth-shaking film debut in 1957 under the direction of Elia Kazan in the classic A Face In The Crowd, which saw Griffith playing a Faustian take on himself, and his own still-climbing career. Griffith welcomed this move, having never been absolutely comfortable with his "Good Guy" image of pristine moral structure and infallibility, that was already being built up around him.
A couple of years later that "Good Guy" image would become unshakable though, as 1960 saw the debut of The Andy Griffith Show. A solid 8 year run ushered Griffith (and co-stars Don Knotts, and a little Ronnie Howard, even Aunt Bee aka Beatrice Taylor) into the small screen Valhalla, immortalized. That cast, and the little town of Mayberry, are part American culture now. That show has helped raise kids like me, and showed an alternate family structure very early on, with Sheriff Andy being a single parent (who still dated mind you!). Sheriff Andy was also an extremely liberal law enforcement officer for the times, opting for kinder tacts such as letting Otis the town drunk benevolently sleep a bender off in a jail cell. Sheriff Andy could get tough too, and more than once handled a real criminal threat that made the mistake of setting foot in his district. yep, I loved that show, and still do.
The 70's hit and Griffith did a lot more TV. He was a fixture in made for television movies particularly, some of my personal favorites being Pray For The Wildcats, Winter Kill, and Savages. All of these films show Griffith in a far grittier light, in some instances being a heinous sick-o villain (Wildcats, Savages) or a much tougher sherrif who must battle a slasher style killer (Winter Kill), and are insane fun.
Then we have the incredibly goofy and fun Salvage-1 from 1980. Sort lived after a successful pilot film, Griffith plays backyard inventor/salvage man Harry Broderick, who builds a rocket-ship so he can fly himself to the moon and retrieve stuff left behind by the Apollo missions.
Later, Griffith showed his audience was still with him and in formidable numbers, with the hit coutroom drama/geri-action series Matlock, in which he played a high priced but extremely effective defense lawyer.
Andy was a trooper and one hell of a survivor too. In 83 he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, which affects the peripheral nervous system, and kept him from walking for 7 months. In 2000 he underwent quadruple heart-bypass surgery, and in 2007 had major hip surgery. All this gives proof to the words of Hank Jr. in that song, "a country boy can survive". This country boy didn't only survive, to have an 86 year run that would see him leaving an imprint that will last forever, but this country boy thrived. Andy Griffith brought sensitivity and gravity to roles that didn't always warrant it, and was a true Renaissance man of entertainment.
I'm hoping Mr. Griffith has a pole cast into the clear waters of that big Mayberry in the sky, and will be enjoying this 4'th of July fireworks display from the greatest vantage point of all.
Here's to the "Pa" I never had. Here's to the amazing and prolific Andy Griffith.