Also Credited As:Andrew Samuel Griffith
About Andy Griffith
Born on June 1, 1926, in Mt. Airy, NC, Griffith developed a strong interest and talent in music at an early age. First hoping to become an opera singer, he shifted gears and set out to become a preacher, enrolling at the University of Chapel Hill in North Carolina as a pre-divinity student. While in college, his focus turned again to the arts with an emphasis on music and theater, and he eventually earned his degree in 1949. After graduation, he became a music teacher at Goldsboro High School, but still yearned to perform professionally. After three years of teaching, Griffith and his first wife, Barbara Edwards, began developing comedy and music routines that they performed on the road, including a comedy monologue called "What it Was, Was Football," a first-person point of view of a simple farm boy's first bewildering experience watching a football game. The skit was released on a record album in 1953.
Griffith honed the monologue to perfection and performed it in one of his four appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (CBS, 1948-1971). He was soon tapped to play the lead role in the United States Steel Hour presentation of the Ira Levin play, "No Time for Sergeants" (ABC, 1955). He reprised the role on Broadway the following year, earning a Tony nomination for his performance, and was joined onstage by a young comic actor named Don Knotts, with whom Griffith would enjoy a lengthy professional and personal relationship. He soon caught the eye of acclaimed film director Elia Kazan, who cast him in a startling dramatic role in "A Face in the Crowd" (1957). Griffith played Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, an Arkansas drifter who is plucked out of obscurity and finds fame as a television host, but whose friendly, folksy charm is cover for scheming ambition for political power. Written by "On the Waterfront" (1954) screenwriter Budd Schulberg, the film was based on the alleged onstage phoniness of Will Rogers and Arthur Godfrey. In his first film role, Griffith arguably never again turned in such a powerful performance playing such a dark character.
Griffith returned to comedy with a feature film version of "No Time for Sergeants" (1958), working again with Knotts, then returned to the stage and earned another Tony nomination for his performance in the musical "Destry Rides Again" (1960). After a series of occasional guest appearances on "The Steve Allen Show" (NBC, 1956-1960), Griffith landed an episode on the Danny Thomas show, "Make Room for Daddy," (ABC, CBS, 1953-1965), making his first appearance as the no-nonsense, down-home Sheriff Andy Taylor. The episode served as the inspiration for "The Andy Griffith Show," which debuted on CBS in 1960, where he expanded his character into one of the most beloved television series of all time. Set in the fictional town of Mayberry, the show centered on Taylor, a widower living with his son Opie (Ron Howard) and his Aunt Bee (Francis Bavier), who worked alongside his earnest, but high-strung deputy, Barney Fife (Knotts). The town itself was populated by an array of quirky townspeople, including Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors), a dim-witted but well-meaning mechanic; his equally dull cousin Goober Pyle (George Lindsey); gossipy Floyd the barber (Howard McNear); and a rock-throwing town clown named Ernest T. Bass (Howard Morris). Part of the show's appeal was avoiding the stereotype that Mayberry's locals were irreproachably moral - the citizenry, including Andy himself, were just as petty, judgmental or selfish as the outsiders who passed through town.
Throughout the years, Griffith made subtle adjustments to his performance. For the second season, he began to rein in some of his wide-eyed, "gee whiz" qualities, and became more of a straight man to comic foil, Knotts. The show was also remarkable for its portrayal of Taylor as a single father going through the dating process; first with Mayberry's pharmacy clerk Ellie Wakler (Elinor Donahue), then Opie's schoolteacher, Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut). Initially, Griffith and Knotts figured on the show running just five years and signed contracts accordingly. But when the first five years were up, Knotts left the series, while Griffith chose to remain until the show finished its run in 1968 after eight seasons. The series remained a ratings success and finished number one in the ratings in its last season. Griffith stepped into an executive producer role for the spin-off, "Mayberry R.F.D." (CBS, 1968-1971), though he did appear in the pilot episode. Despite setting a ratings record for a new show, the spin-off was nonetheless cancelled when the network elected to rid itself of rural-themed shows.
Griffith went on to occasionally star in movies, but it was mostly forgettable fare like "Angel in My Pocket," (1969) and "Hearts of the West" (1975). On television, he tried to recapture some of his down-home appeal with the short-lived "The New Andy Griffith Show" (CBS, 1971), a confusing program on which Griffith played Andy Sawyer, a man who made good and left his small rural hometown, only to return to fill in as a replacement mayor. Regarded as distinctly inferior to the original, "The New Andy Griffith Show" was cancelled after a few months on air. Meanwhile, Griffith continued appearing in guest spots on shows like "The Mod Squad" (ABC, 1968-1973), "Hawaii Five-0" (CBS, 1968-1980), "Here's Lucy" (CBS, 1968-1974) and "The Bionic Woman" (ABC/NBC, 1976-78). Griffith had a leading role in the television movie "Salvage" (ABC, 1979) and its subsequent series, "Salvage 1," (ABC, 1978-1980), playing Harry Broderick, an ordinary junk dealer who creates a working rocket ship to fly to the moon to retrieve spare parts left behind by NASA astronauts.
After a string of guest spots and the disappointing ratings of "Salvage 1," Griffith turned in an Emmy-nominated performance as the suspicious father of a woman believed to have been murdered by her plastic surgeon husband in the TV movie-of-the-week "Murder in Texas" (NBC, 1981). He then appeared in the James Burrows-produced old west sitcom "Best of the West" (ABC, 1981-82), before turning in a cameo in a 1982 episode of "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ). But in 1983, his acting career was put on hold when he became stricken with Guillen-Barre syndrome, a muscular disease that left him partially paralyzed for several months. But in a few years, he made a triumphant return, joining co-stars Don Knotts, Ron Howard and others for a reunion movie, "Return to Mayberry," (CBS, 1986). That same year, Griffith made a significant return to series television with the courtroom drama, "Matlock" (NBC, ABC, 1986-1995). His portrayal of lawyer Ben Matlock, whose country charm and simple mannerisms belied a sharp, cunning mind, struck a chord with millions of viewers - many of them older and likely fans of his previous work as a Sheriff Taylor. Griffith also served as executive producer on the show and appeared in all 180 episodes. After the long-running series left the airwaves, he reprised the role in a special guest appearance for two-part storyline on "Diagnosis Murder" (CBS, 1993-2001).
Of all the characters he played over the years, Griffith remarked that Matlock was his favorite. During the show's run, he played the character in several well-received movies-of-the-week, including "Matlock: The Vacation" (ABC, 1992), "Matlock: The Legacy" (ABC, 1992) and "Matlock: The Heist" (ABC, 1995). Griffith continued working even after the show, playing a villain in the Leslie Nielsen espionage spoof "Spy Hard" (1996), while appearing on episodes of "Dawson's Creek" (The WB, 1998-2003) and "Family Law" (CBS, 1999-2002). He also recorded a series of Christmas and gospel albums, including I Love to Tell the Story: 25 Timeless Hymns which won a Grammy Award in 1997. Griffith made frequent appearances on television after the death of his old co-star Don Knotts in early 2006, including a tribute to his friend on "Larry King Live" (CNN, 1985-2010). As the years piled on, the aging star appeared less frequently on screen, while several health issues began to take prominence. In 2000, he underwent a successful quadruple bypass surgery. After receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, Griffith re-emerged for a return to the big screen in the independent romance, "Waitress" (2007), playing Old Joe, a wise patron of a small town diner where an unhappy waitress (Keri Russell) works. Only two months after his "Andy Griffith Show" co-star George Lindsey died, the beloved television star passed away from a heart attack on July 3, 2012 at age 86. Ron Howard released a statement, saying "His pursuit of excellence and the joy he took in creating served generations and shaped my life. I'm forever grateful. RIP Andy."
|Barbara Griffith. Married Aug. 26, 1949; divorced Oct. 16, 1972|
|Cyndi Knight. Married April 12, 1983|
|Solica Cassuto. Married June 11, 1975; divorced in 1981|
|Dixie Griffith. Adopted; mother, Barbara Griffith|
|Andrew Samuel Griffith. Born Dec. 8, 1957; adopted; mother, Barbara Griffith; died of alcoholism Jan. 17, 1996|
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill , North Carolina|
|Struck out on a career as an entertainer; originally wanted to be a singer, but had more success with a monologue parodying popular Johnny Ray song "Please Mr. Sun"|
|Taught high school music in Goldsboro, NC for three years after graduating from college|
|Recorded "What It Was Was Football," one of the most popular comedic monologues of all time|
|Made TV debut guesting on an episode of "The Ed Sullivan Show" (CBS)|
|Read Mac Hayman's novel No Time for Sergeants and later found out that the Theatre Guild was presenting it as a play on TV, which was bound for Broadway; auditioned and won the role of Will Stockdale, playing it on TV's "U.S. Steel Hour" (ABC, CBS)|
|Made Broadway debut in "No Time for Sergeants"; received Tony nomination|
|Appeared as a regular on the NBC variety series "The Steve Allen Show"|
|Made feature film debut with a leading role in Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd"|
|Returned to Broadway in the lead of the musicalized "Destry Rides Again"; received Tony nomination for Actor in a Musical|
|Starred as folksy sheriff and single father Andy Taylor on the popular CBS sitcom "The Andy Griffith Show"|
|Co-hosted his first TV variety special "The Andy Griffith-Don Knotts-Jim Nabors Show"|
|First TV producing credit, as executive producer of the "The Andy Griffith Show" spin-off "Mayberry R.F.D." (CBS)|
|First TV writing credit, "Looking Back", a nostalgic look at young people growing up during the 1930s|
|Starred as elite private school headmaster Andy Thompson on the CBS comedy-drama series "Headmaster"|
|Starred as Mayor Andy Sawyer on the CBS sitcom "The New Andy Griffith Show"|
|Former production company Andy Griffith Enterprises|
|TV-movie acting debut, "The Strangers in 7A" (CBS)|
|First TV production of Andy Griffith Enterprises, the TV-movie "Winter Kill" (ABC); also starred|
|Last leading role in a feature, "Hearts of the West"; took second billing to Jeff Bridges|
|Starred as Sheriff Sam Adams on the short-lived ABC crime drama series "Adams of Eagle Lake," which was produced by Andy Griffith Enterprises|
|Acted in first TV miniseries, "Washington: Behind Closed Doors" (ABC)|
|Starred as Harry Broderick on the ABC adventure series "Salvage 1"|
|Played Carroll Yeager on the short-lived ABC drama series "The Yeagers"|
|First supporting role on a TV series, the Western comedy "Best of the West" (ABC)|
|Executive produced and reprised Andy Taylor role in the TV-movie "Return to Mayberry" (NBC), the highest rated TV-movie of its season|
|Played the title role of Benjamin L. Matlock on the courtroom drama series "Matlock" (NBC, 1986-1993; ABC, 1993-95); also co-executive produced|
|Executive produced and hosted the CBS comedy compilation special "The Andy Griffith Show Reunion," which reunited cast members and included clips from the series|
|Guest starred on The WB's hit teen drama "Dawson's Creek"|
|Landed supporting role in "Daddy and Them," starring Billy Bob Thornton, Laura Dern, and Diane Ladd|
|Appeared as 'Old Joe,' the diner owner in the indie feature "Waitress"|
|Made final film appearance in the romantic comedy "Play the Game"|