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Charlotte Observer: TV Legend Andy Griffith Dies At 86 In Manteo

Flowers have been placed at the statue outside the Andy Griffith Playhouse in Mount Airy, NC. Photo: Tanner Latham

Flowers have been placed at the statue outside the Andy Griffith Playhouse in Mount Airy, NC. Photo: Tanner Latham He was a vocalist, an actor, a stand-up comic, a producer and once even a schoolteacher, but we knew him best for creating the mythic Mayberry, a Camelot in bib overalls where home-spun wisdom reigned. Former UNC President Bill Friday broke the news to WITN News in North Carolina. An earlier report confirmed that a medical crew had rushed to the Griffith home this morning. Observer sources have confirmed Griffith's death. He was Andrew Samuel Griffith, but we knew him best as "Andy." He died Tuesday at age 86 in Manteo. "Andy Griffith means the world to the arts everywhere - not just here in Mount Airy," said Tanya Jones, excecutive director of the Surry Arts Council, which oversees the Andy Griffith Museum there. "We are blessed to have known him. We will cherish is his art, his music, his talent, and of course, our beloved Andy Griffith Show." Hollywood director Ron Howard, whose formative years were spent on the set of "The Andy Griffith Show" as Opie, played the precocious son of the small-town sheriff Andy Taylor. In the landmark series about family values that entertained millions in the 1960s and thrives five decades later in syndication, their father-son relationship was one of the few that wasn't played just for laughs. In an unusually serious episode that stretched the dramatic range of television comedy in 1963, Opie killed a mother bird with a slingshot and was forced by his father to listen the cries of her hungry chicks. Opie then raised the birds himself and, at episode's end, let them fly off, leading to an epilogue emblematic of the show's fundamental optimism. "Cage sure seems awful empty, don't it Pa?" observed Opie. "Yes son, it sure does," replied sheriff Taylor. "But don't the trees seem nice and full?" Deep Tar Heel roots Griffith was born in Mount Airy on June 1, 1926, son of Carl and Geneva Griffith. He took a liking to music and learned to play the trombone at 16. Despite a so-so academic record, he was industrious, earning enough money sweeping the high school after classes to buy a bass horn and guitar. He went on to UNC Chapel Hill and majored in music, taking five years to get his degree in 1949. He taught school for three years in Goldsboro. Lanky and handsome, his head thick with wavy black hair, he found summer work at the outdoor drama "The Lost Colony" in Manteo. Griffith played Sir Walter Raleigh from 1949 to 1953 and also appeared on the dinner club circuit as comedian and singer. Motoring one evening down the then-pastoral N.C. 54 from Chapel Hill to a 1953 appearance in Raleigh, Griffith was struck by an inspiration that would ignite his career. He dreamed up a comic monologue about a country bumpkin mystified by a game "where you try to run across a cow pasture without getting hit or stepping in something." It got big laughs and Griffith spun to fame on a phonograph needle. "What It Was Was Football" sold a million copies. It got him on Ed Sullivan. And it established Griffith as a southern comedic voice, leading to a role as the hillbilly recruit in the TV production of "No Time for Sergeants" and then the same role on Broadway, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award. Copyright 2012 The Charlotte Observer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.