By now, you’ve probably heard that Andy Griffith has died at the age of 86 in North Carolina, the state he put in the limelight during the long-running TV sitcom “The Andy Griffith Show,” in which he played Mayberry, NC sheriff Andy Taylor.
“North Carolina has lost its favorite son,” North Carolina Gov. Beverly Purdue said in a Reuters story about Griffith’s passing.
So did small towns everywhere.
Griffith’s folksy, easy-mannered, and wise character was the small town mouse who always got the better of every city mouse who visited his sleepy little burg, but always in a gentle way, and with no real malice.
But Griffith’s appeal—which he carried over as the equally folksy lawyer “Matlock” decades after Andy Taylor stopped “sheriffin’—was even broader than that. How broad? Well, I was raised in Chicago and I thought of Sheriff Taylor as a role model and wouldn't miss an episode.
Hollywood loses dozens of special people every year, but it’s a rare person whose death elicits a statement from the White House. The Duke did when he died. And so did Griffith. President Obama called him “beloved by generations,” and that’s the truth. Maybe that’s because, as Griffith told an interviewer in 2003, “the basic theme of our show was love.”
Yep. Andy, his son, Opie—who would grow up to be Richie Cunningham on “Happy Days” and then famous director Ron Howard—and Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts) loved Andy’s and Opie’s caretaker, Aunt Bee, so much that they stopped out-of-town motorists to give them awards for their driving. That is, they found a way to get rid of Aunt Bee’s awful pickles so as not to hurt her feelings (or their stomachs).
They loved town drunk Otis so much that they gave him the key to the jail so he could come and go as needed, and on more than one occasion bailed him out by helping him pretend he was something he wasn’t, just so he could save face.
They loved the mountain Darling clan so much that there was no turning up their noses when the unsophisticated ones came to Mayberry. Heck, it was just an excuse for Andy to reach for his guitar and Barney a jug so the two of them could play along when the real-life Dillards started in with their bluegrass music. And they loved the moonshiners they busted, always with some apology and understanding.
Heck, they even loved all the arrogant lawmen that thought Mayberry was a hick town and Andy its rube sheriff. With a smile, Andy would just do his thing while the big city men did theirs, and the audience knew who would win respect in the end.
It was Andy, of course. And no matter how many times we heard the name Taylor during the show, we all knew it was Griffith all along.
From 1960 to 1960 Andy made Mayberry a better place, and by so doing he made the world that watched a better place as well. Like Lucille Ball, Griffith was one of TV’s classics—a performer whose impact went well beyond the small screen.
Raise your hand if you can whistle the theme song from “The Andy Griffith Show.”
See what I mean?
You’ll be missed, Mr. Griffith. But thanks to the magic of DVDs we can always get our dose of Andy Griffith style comedy any time we want. Ten-ten, good buddy. Over and out.