This week’s Actor of the Week is going to be a little different. Usually we spotlight up-and-coming actors or those in the peak of their career. Today I want to write about an actor whose legacy has passed but who will always be remembered — in our hearts, in our ambitions and in TV Land reruns.
A Man of Many Talents
A member of any generation can, when hearing the name Andy Griffith, make an immediate connection to The Andy Griffith Show. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t grow up watching the show, if you never met Sheriff Andy Taylor and his son, Opie, doesn’t matter if you never planned on moving to Mayberry (the fictional town where the show is set). What matters is, no matter how old you are, you’re able to remember that there was a show called The Andy Griffith Show and it was good enough, memorable enough, meaningful enough, to work its way into America’s cultural identity.
However, Griffith had many lesser-known talents that shouldn’t be overlooked. In highschool he learned how to sing and to play the trombone. He furthered his musical abilities in college and graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a Bachelor of Music degree. He wanted to be an opera singer and performed in several student operettas, although he could also sing country, bluegrass and southern gospel. After graduating college, he taught a music and drama class at Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, NC.
Before his acting career got started, Griffith wrote his own comedic monologues. In 1953, his monologue What it Was, Was Football was released as a single and soon became a hit.
Griffith was also active politically and has done work endorsing Barack Obama’s presidential campaign as well as campaigns for North Carolina governors Mike Easley and Bev Perdue. In 1989, he declined an offer to run for Senator against Republican Jesse Helms.
His Personal ‘Mayberry’
At UNC Chapel Hill Griffith met his first wife, Barbara Edwards, who introduced him to Manteo, a town on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Together they auditioned for parts in the historical outdoor play The Lost Colony. He worked on the play for five seasons, eventually landing the role of Sir Walter Raleigh. He married Edwards in 1949. Although his birthplace is Mount Airy, NC, and he spent much of his early life in Chapel Hill or Goldsboro, Griffith always considered Manteo home. Throughout his later years, he often attended The Lost Colony play and would even frequent plays at the local highschool to give the young actors encouragement and his good wishes.
“There is no where else on Earth I would rather be,” he said of Manteo.
Griffith married three times. First, to Edwards, his college sweetheart. Their companionship lasted for 23 years and together they adopted a son, Andrew Samuel Griffith, Jr., and a daughter, Dixie Nan. In 1972 they peacefully divorced and just a year later he married greek actress Solica Cassuto. Griffith and Cassuto divorced 8 years later.
His final marriage was to Cindi Knight. They met while he was filming Murder in Coweta County. Knight was a dancer in The Lost Colony and was only 27 at the time of her marriage to Griffith. They married on the Outer Banks and lived there happily until his death.
Overcoming Health Problems
As he grew older, Griffith experienced a variety of health problems, although he recovered well and with optimism. Only months after his marriage to Knight, he developed Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder that left him unable to walk for eight months. However, he recovered from the disease and went on to land the titular role in the TV show Matlock, which ran for nine years.
In year 2000, he was rushed to Norfolk General Hospital for triple bypass surgery. He underwent surgery under an assumed name and the entire hospital stay was kept secret. He didn’t want future producers to get wind of his life-threatening situation and be unwilling to insure him for longer projects. Even on what could potentially have been his deathbed, Andy Griffith was making sure he’d be able to keep working. He was a man who loved his career.
Between that hospital stay and his death last Tuesday, Griffith released six albums, acted in three movies and voiced two more, appeared in Dawson’s Creek and helped make a music video.
He died at home from a heart attack. He is buried in the Griffith Family Cemetery, located on the island he always loved, where there is no where else on Earth he would rather be.
Andy Griffith’s TV Work:
- Dawson’s Creek (2001)
- A Holiday Romance (1999)
- Scattering Dad (1998)
- Gramps (1995)
- The Gift of Love (1994)
- Under the Influence (1986)
- Matlock (1986 – 1995)
- Return to Mayberry (1986)
- Crime of Innocence (1985)
- Fatal Vision (1984)
- The Demon Murder Case (1983)
- Murder in Coweta County (1983)
- For Lovers Only (1982)
- Murder in Texas (1981)
- The Yeagers (1980)
- Roots: The Next Generations (1979)
- From Here to Eternity (1979)
- Salvage 1 (1979)
- Centennial (1978)
- Deadly Game (1977)
- The Girl in the Empty Grave (1977)
- Washington: Behind Closed Doors (1977)
- Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (1976)
- Six Characters in Search of an Author (1976)
- Street Killing (1976)
- Adams of Eagle Lake (1975)
- Savages (1974)
- Winter Kill (1974)
- Pray for the Wildcats (1974)
- Go Ask Alice (1973)
- The Strangers in 7A (1972)
- The New Andy Griffith Show (1971)
- The Headmaster (1970-1971)
- The Andy Griffith Show (1960 – 1968)
- Make Room for Daddy (1960)
- Play the Game (2008)
- Chrismtas is Here Again (2007)
- Waitress (2007)
- The Very First Noel (2006)
- Daddy and Them (2001)
- Spy Hard (1996)
- Rustler’s Rhapsody (1985)
- Hearts of the West (1975)
- Angel in my Pocket (1969)
- The Second Time Around (1961)
- Onionhead (1958)
- No Time for Sergeants (1958)
- A Face in the Crowd (1957)
- Waitin’ on a Woman (2008)
‘Andy Griffith Show’ Theme
If you have any favorite moments or memories of Andy Griffith, please share in the comments.