UPDATE to include Ron Howard’s reaction: Andy Griffith DeadNorth Carolina’s WITN News is reporting that legendary TV and movie actor, director, producer, singer, and writer Andy Griffith died this morning in his Dare County home, according to former University of North Carolina President Bill Friday and a close friend of the actor. Griffith was 86. The native of Mount Airy, North Carolina, lived on Roanoke Island. He gained prominence in the starring role in director Elia Kazan’s epic film, A Face In The Crowd (1957) before he became better known for his television roles as the folksy Southerner who was the sheriff or lawyer people always wanted and the father figure people rarely had. Griffith was a regular on The Ed Sullivan Show in the 1950s and then earned the title as “America’s Favorite Sheriff” on The Andy Griffith Show set in fictional Mayberry. The hit show ran from 1960-1968 propelling a handful of spin-off programs and launched the child acting career of prominent Hollywood director Ron Howard. New generations were introduced to the series through TV Land, which even dedicated a statue to the series in Raleigh, NC. Griffith also produced and starred in the 1986-1996 television legal series Matlock. He made acting look easy but in fact he was a consumate professional widely liked by the Hollywood community. Griffith  also became a Grammy Award-winning Southern gospel singer. Later in life, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 from President George W. Bush.

Ron Howard has not heard from Andy Griffith’s family yet and so cannot confirm the Hollywood legend’s passing. But the prominent director and producer knew that Griffith “has not been well for some time”. About Griffith, who played Howard’s father on The Andy Griffith Show, Howard told me exclusively: “His love of creating, the joy he took in it whether it was drama or comedy or his music, was inspiring to grow up around. The spirit he created on the set of The Andy Griffith Show was joyful and professional all at once. It was an amazing environment. And I think it was a reflection of the way he felt about having the opportunity to create something that people could enjoy. It was always with respect and passion for the opportunity and really what it could offer people in a very unpretentious and earthy way. He felt he was always working in service of an audience he really respected and cared about. He was a great influence on me. His passing is sad. But he lived and a great rich life.”

According to his official bio, Griffith was born in a blue collar home where humor and music were part of the family tradition. His love of singing was rooted in church, and his interest in acting began in high school. Griffith won a role in the North Carolina historical play The Lost Colony which is still performed on Roanoke Island where he maintained a home since the 1960s and where he passed away this morning at 7 AM.  He began the University Of North Carolina studying to be a preacher but changed his major to music and graduated with a bachelor of music degree in 1949. He also played roles in several student operettas. After graduation, he taught high school English for a few years and also began to write long folksy stories as a monologist. ”What it Was, Was Football” about a rural backwoodsman trying to understand football, was released as a single in 1953 and reached #9 on the charts in 1954.

Griffith began acting on TV and on Broadway as the quintessential country boy. He starred in a one-hour teleplay version of No Time for Sergeants (March 1955) on The United States Steel Hour, then expanded that role in a full-length Broadway version of the same name that October. Griffith later reprised his role in a 1958 film version which also featured Don Knotts “marking the beginning of a life-long association between Griffith and Knotts,” according to Griffith’s official bio. (No Time For Sergeants is considered the direct inspiration for The Andy Griffith Show spinoff sitcom Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.)

But it was Griffith’s complex starring role in 1957′s A Face In The Crowd as yet another country boy opposite Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Tony Franciosa, and Lee Remick (in her film début as well) that truly demonstrated his acting prowess. Directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg, the movie  required Griffith to seesaw between being likeable and being manipulative with an authenticity even more experienced actors would find difficult. But instead of continuing in film, Griffith went on to TV stardom.

In 1960, Griffith appeared as a county sheriff in an episode of Danny Thomas’ Make Room For Daddy, which served as a backdoor pilot for The Andy Griffith Show. (Both shows were produced by Sheldon Leonard) As Sheriff Andy Taylor, Griffith’s wit and wisdom was the star of the instant hit show. And although Griffith never received a writing credit, heis official bio says he worked on the development of every script. Amazingly Griffith was never nominated for an Emmy Award during the show’s run. In 1967, Griffith was under contract with CBS to do one more season but quit to pursue a movie career and other projects. (The series continued as Mayberry R.F.D. with Griffith as executive producer. He made final appearances as Taylor in the 1986 reunion television film Return To Mayberry and in two reunion specials in 1993 and 2003.

Few actors star in one successful TV show much less two. But Griffith started his own production company Andy Griffith Enterprises in 1972 and after some ill-fated tries, hit it big again in 1986 as the title character Ben Matlock in the legal drama Matlock. His official bio says the hour-long followed a bout with leg paralysis from Guillain–Barré syndrome that year. Once again Griffith was the Southern lawman, in this case a defense attorney, and once again he was never nominated for an Emmy although the show received four nominations. His official bio says that during the series’ 6th season he served as unofficial director, executive producer, and writer of the show.

Griffith received his only Primetime Emmy Award nomination as Outstanding Supporting Actor – Miniseries or a Movie for his role as the father of a murder victim in the television film Murder In Texas (1981).

Griffith also appeared in more feature films: the 1975 comedy Hearts Of The West and the 1985 Western spoof Rustlers’ Rhapsody as well as 2007′s Waitress and 2009′s s Play The Game.

Griffith sang in some acting roles - most notably in A Face In The Crowd and in many episodes of both The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock. He made an album of upbeat country and gospel tunes during the run of The Andy Griffith Show, which included a version of the show’s theme sung by Griffith under the title “The Fishin’ Hole”. He later recorded successful albums of classic Christian hymns for Sparrow Records, with his 1996 release “I Love to Tell the Story: 25 Timeless Hymns” certified platinum. Griffith won a Grammy in 1997 for Best Southern Gospel, Country Gospel Or Bluegrass Gospel Album.
Read more: http://www.beliefnet.com/Celebrity-Faith-Database/G/Andy-Griffith.aspx#ixzz1zZpe20m7

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