Andy Griffith, who played the wise sheriff of Mayberry, N.C., in one of American television's most beloved situation comedies, has died, according to a family friend and a real-life sheriff in North Carolina.
He was 86.
WITN-TV in Washington, N.C., says an ambulance was called to Griffith's home on Roanoke Island around 7 a.m. ET this morning. Former University of North Carolina President Bill Friday, a friend, was the first person to report the death in an interview with the station. In the past hour, local Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie has released a statement saying that "Griffith passed way at his home on Roanoke Island. The family will be releasing more information, but no more information is available at this time."
(Note at 1:15 p.m. ET: The sheriff's office has released a statement from the family that says, in part, "at approximately 7 a.m. [today] Andy Griffith passed away at his home, peacefully.")
The North Carolina native's career spanned more than half a century. He moved from Broadway to Hollywood in the late '50s, making his movie debut in A Face in the Crowd. But it was as Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, beginning in 1960, that he made his name.
Ron Howard, who played young Opie Taylor on the show, told WHYY's Fresh Air in a 1995 interview that Griffith brought a rare down-home honesty to the show. It was a show that, while poking fun at down-home characters, did so with loving humor. And there was often a morale or a message.
After eight years on the air as Sheriff Taylor, Griffith went on to star as a criminal defense attorney in TV's Matlock from 1986-95, according to IMDB.com — which has extensive background on his career.
The Archive of American Television has videos of several interviews with Griffith in which he talks about his career, including how he came to be on TV and the origin of The Andy Griffith Show. In it, he says the arrival of actor Don Knotts (as Deputy Barney Fife) after the pilot and and then the decision after the first couple shows to make the sheriff a "straight man" for his comic deputy and other characters is what made the show a hit. Knotts died in 2006.
Haven't seen The Andy Griffith Show in a while? TVLand.com has six episodes available here. ExtraTV.com has put together the show's "top 5 moments." And if you just want to hear that famous whistling theme song, it's here.
By the way, the composer (and whistler) of the show's theme was Earl Hagen, who died in 2008.
Other news outlets' Griffith obituaries:
-- "North Carolina legend Andy Griffith dies at 86." (Raleigh's News & Observer)
-- "Beloved TV star Andy Griffith dies at 86 in Manteo." (Charlotte Observer)
-- "Andy Griffith: A TV dad for all time." (The Orlando Sentinel's TV Guy and More)