Andrew S. Griffith was born on June 1, 1926, in Mount Airy, North Carolina. With aspirations to become a Moravian minister, Griffith attended the University of Chapel Hill in 1944 to pursue a divinity degree. During his studies at UNC, Griffith was intrigued by drama and theater, so he switched his degree to music and he graduated in 1949.
Andy Griffith started his career as a comedian in the early 1950s. However, before his acting career, Griffith taught high school music. After teaching for three years, Griffith and his wife Barbara Edwards started traveling and performing throughout North Carolina. On November 14, 1953, a Chapel Hill record company released Griffith’s “What It Was, Was Football,” a discourse about the game of football as witnessed by a young country boy who didn’t understand the game. Eventually, Capitol Records obtains rights to the record and the Griffith’s comedic monologue sells a million copies.
Griffith’s first acting performance of widespread acclaim came when he acted in the play No Time for Sergeants. The play started on Broadway on October 20, 1955, and it inspired both a movie and a television show. However, the most defining part of the play was the meeting of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, a fellow actor of the play, who later played Barney Fife in the The Andy Griffith Show.
On February 15, 1960, Sheriff Andy Griffith makes his first television debut on the The Danny Thomas Show. During his appearance on the show, Griffith arrested Danny Thomas who was caught speeding through Mayberry, a fictional town that resembled Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy. Griffith’s debut marked the beginning of The Andy Griffith Show.
CBS Television started airing The Andy Griffith Show in October 1960. Set in the fictional town of Mayberry, Andy Griffith starred as the show’s main character, Sheriff Andy Griffith, who often employed his “charm and homespun wisdom to settle disturbances in Mayberry and restore its peacefulness and order” (Jo Ann Williford, Encyclopedia of N.C., p. 51). The television show became an instant success as it offered a welcoming view of the South during the tumultuous 1960s. Today, television stations continue to air reruns of the classic sitcom.
The show’s finale was aired in September 1968, and a total of 249 episodes marked the legacy of The Andy Griffith Show. Several spin off shows were created to regain the success of The Andy Griffith Show, and in 1972 Griffith started his own production company, Andy Griffith Enterprises. Griffith’s company produced several television movies including Murder in Texas (1981), earning the North Carolinian an Emmy nomination.
Griffith suffered from Guillen-Barre syndrome in the early 1980s and he spent several months recuperating from the muscular disease. After he made his recovery, Griffith returned to television as a Southern lawyer in the drama series of Matlock. The show aired from 1986 until 1995, and Griffith became involved in other television projects, including The Andy Griffith Reunion Special in 1993.
After divorcing his Barbara Edwards in 1972, Griffith remarried Cindi Knight in 1983 and they both retired to Griffith’s ranch in Dare County. At his home on Roanoke Island, Andy Griffith passed away from heart complications on July 3, 2012. He was eighty-six years old.
On This Day in North Carolina. Lew Powell. (John F. Blair: Winston-Salem, NC 1996).
“Andy Griffith Show; Recording Industry.” Jo Ann Wiliford. William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).
“Andy Griffith Biography.” Bio - True Story Website. A & E Networks. http://www.biography.com/people/andy-griffith-9542091, (accessed July 10, 2012).
By Jonathan Martin, North Carolina History Project
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