Jul 3, 201202:26 PMThe Telegraph

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R.I.P.: Andy Griffith (1926-2012)

Jul 3, 2012 - 02:26 PM
R.I.P.: Andy Griffith (1926-2012)

When an icon of Andy Griffith’s advanced years passes away, it’s customary to begin a tribute with some sort of qualification. Something like, “If you’re of a certain age, you might remember…” But no such stipulation is necessary when talking about this particular gentleman, because Griffith, who died Tuesday at age 86, ensured a special kind of immortality for himself with his uniquely engaging portrayal of Sheriff Andy Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show, the much-beloved classic sitcom that has remained in constant circulation throughout decades of broadcast and cablecast reruns.

Indeed, even folks whose parents were not yet born when that enduringly popular series kicked off its original 1960-68 run know, and more than likely love, Sheriff Andy of Mayberry, an irresistibly charismatic figure who seemed to embody all the best qualities of a loving father, a reliable friend, a folksy sage, a droll yet compassionate observer of human foibles -- and a cool-headed, even-handed, politely authoritative peace officer.

Griffith played Taylor so winningly and wonderfully that the line between actor and character were blurred, if not completely erased, before the end of the premiere episode. And not just because the role was (pardon the pun) tailor-made for Griffith. Sheriff Andy was such an exemplary individual – really, a walking and talking textbook definition of a nice guy – that viewers couldn’t help assuming, and hoping, that Griffith wasn’t acting at all, but simply being during all those years in Mayberry.

Even so, don’t misunderstand: Griffith wasn’t a one-trick pony. He earned acclaim in an impressive variety of roles, ranging from a treacherously telegenic fraud in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957) to an Old Hollywood bit player who mentors a budding B-movie cowboy (Jeff Bridges) in Howard Zieff’s Hearts of the West (1975). He was an LBJ-style U.S. president profoundly distrustful of his Nixonian successor (Jason Robards) in the 1977 miniseries Washington: Behind Closed Doors – based on a novel by former Nixon confidant John Ehrlichman – and a smug millionaire who thinks he can get away with murder until a small-town lawman (Johnny Cash) brings him down in Murder in Coweta County (1983).

Of course, he also was Matlock. And in his later years – a country music video star.

No kidding.

Brad Paisley says making a 2008 music video for “Waitin’ on a Woman” with Griffith “was one of my proudest moments in my entire career. And he was so amazingly gracious to do that with me.”

At the time, “I thought, ‘Here’s a guy who’s essentially retired to North Carolina to enjoy life. He still works. He likes to act when he’s offered the right things. But for him to bring that sort of dedication to something like this – and it wasn’t even his song.

“Of course,” Paisley adds with a chuckle, “it ended up being his video, which is the greatest thing in the world. And I’m so glad that when it got nominated for Country Music Award Video of the Year, it got nominated as ‘Brad Paisley with Andy Griffith.’ So he got his own CMA award when we won that.” 

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