The news was a little hard to take this morning, for many of us, I’m sure—Andy Griffith, star of the beloved “Andy Griffith Show” and “Matlock”—had passed away at the age of 86.
Griffith was, of course, best known for Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, North Carolina—the genial, kind, yet no-nonsense law and order of a fictional town based on his own hometown of Mount Airy. His role as not just the sheriff, but the thoughtful and loving single dad of “Opie”, is, in my opinion, one of the best television characters we’ve ever been given. Andy Taylor was unfailingly honest, hard-working (even with all that fishing), generous, and good natured—except with bad guys, of course, and despite occasionally displaying affectionate exasperation with Barney.
I, like so many others, still often find myself watching “The Andy Griffith Show” as I work or sew or cook. In fact, if it is on the air somewhere, something really spectacular would have to be on for me to not watch! It’s the warm fuzzies in black and white, and gives us a picture of the best America could be and still is in some places. Mayberry is the place many of us would love to live, and Andy Taylor is much of the reason for that. Simple virtues and propriety, warm friendship, honest work, and good humour seemed to be the order of the day.
That said, Griffith’s most remarkable performance was surely in 1957’s “A Face In The Crowd”. His “Lonesome” Rhodes could not have been more removed from Andy Taylor: self-centered, debauched, utterly incorrigible, and sometimes downright nasty. But really, it wasn’t the departure from Sheriff Andy or Matlock that made Griffith’s “Lonesome” Rhodes so good—it is simply an astoundingly alive performance. Griffith’s “Lonesome” Rhodes seems about to crawl right out of his skin, making him one of the most absolutely riveting characters I’ve ever seen in film.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Griffith got much respect in Hollywood—but then, he seemed like a decent person. Maybe it wasn’t the place for him. An honest actor, he didn’t act in many films, but the body of work he did leave behind is much-beloved and appreciated. The two roles he will remain best known for—Sheriff Andy and Ben Matlock—were all-American decent fellas, the sort you’d be more than happy to shoot the breeze on the front porch with.
RIP, Mr. Griffith. You will be missed—but thank you for leaving so much plain old-fashioned goodness behind.