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Saturday 24 February 2018

Andy Griffith

Television actor whose homespun country charm struck a chord with American audiences

Andy Griffith, who died on July 3 aged 86, became a television star in the United States in the 1960s, dispensing homespun wisdom as the plain-speaking sheriff of Mayberry, a mythical small town in the American Deep South.

Such was the success of The Andy Griffith Show that Mayberry became a metaphor for any small community with values rooted in an age long gone, and where the sheriff never carried a gun, the local drunk locked himself in jail and even villains passing through were changed for the better.

Griffith's character, a drawling widower named Andy Taylor, adopted the sheriff's easy-going persona so convincingly that many viewers believed he and the character were the same.

In 1986, Griffith returned in the light-hearted legal drama Matlock, starring as a Harvard-educated attorney with a law practice in Atlanta. The series ran until 1995.

Of his signature Southern drawl, Griffith noted that there was a fine line between the phoney and the authentic speech cadences of the American South, where people accented words in a particular fashion. "In England," he observed, "the language is enjoyed much the same way."

The son of a foreman in a furniture factory, Andrew Samuel Griffith was born on June 1, 1926, at Mount Airy, North Carolina, later recognised as the model for the fictional Mayberry. As a child he sang and played trombone in a church band. After Mount Airy High School he studied at the University of North Carolina and for a time considered a career as an opera singer or a church minister before taking a job as a high school music teacher.

In 1949, he married Barbara Edwards, whom he had met at college, and with whom he developed a travelling musical act, touring the Carolinas in a station wagon. One of Griffith's most popular turns was as a simple rustic in a comic monologue called What It Was, Was Football, about a bumpkin attending a college football game. This led to his first network television appearance, on The Ed Sullivan Show, in 1954.

The following year he starred as another hillbilly figure in a stage adaptation of a bestselling novel, No Time For Sergeants, which transferred to Broadway; he reprised the role in a film version in 1958.

In 1957, directed by Elia Kazan, Griffith starred in the feature film drama A Face in the Crowd as Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, a jailbird and amateur singer who becomes a television philosopher.

Griffith turned to musical comedy in 1959 in a Broadway version of Destry Rides Again. When the run ended in July 1960 he was cast in his own TV programme. Although The Andy Griffith Show initially ran until 1968, repeats continued for decades thereafter.

A committed Christian, Griffith won a Grammy in 1997 for his album of gospel music I Love to Tell the Story -- 25 Timeless Hymns.

In 2007, he appeared in a critically acclaimed independent film, Waitress, playing Joe, the boss at an American diner. The following year he was in the award-winning music video Waitin' on a Woman.

Griffith suffered from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that can cause sudden paralysis. In 2000, he suffered a heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass surgery.

He also dabbled in Democratic politics, appearing in 2008 in an Obama campaign video, and two years later made a commercial praising his healthcare legislation.

With his first wife, Barbara Edwards, Andy Griffith adopted two children, one of whom predeceased him in 1996. This marriage and his second, to Solica Cassuto, ended in divorce. He married his third wife, Cindi Knight, in 1983.

Sunday Independent

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