Most people remember Andy Griffith, who died at age 86 at his home on Roanoke Island In North Carolina on Tuesday, from the extraordinarily popular TV show that carried his name and that made him and his character -- Sheriff Andy Taylor -- icons of American popular culture. Griffith, though, was far more than a one-hit wonder. He was a man of many talents whose long and multifaceted career made him one of the nation's most recognized and beloved performers.
Sheriff Taylor and his "The Andy Griffith Show" castmates -- Don Knotts, Ron Howard, Jim Nabors and Frances Bavier -- entertained millions during its run. It was No. 4 in the Nielsen ratings its first year (1960) and never fell below the Top 10. It was ensconced firmly at No. 1 in 1968, the series' last season. The is one of only three in TV series to leave the air at the top of the ratings. "I Love Lucy" and Seinfeld" were the others. That's pretty good company.
Griffith's resume included far more than "The Andy Griffith Show." More than a decade after that show ended, he starred in "Matlock," a series about a folksy but wise Southern lawyer. It was a hit, too, running more years than "The Andy Griffith Show," though it never won the rabid following of the earlier show. For many performers, those two shows would constitute a full career. Not for Griffith, though.
He was an acclaimed big-screen performer -- "A Face in the Crowd" and "Onionhead" were critical and audience favorites. He excelled on stage, winning praise for his role in "No Time for Sergeants." He was a recording star, too. He won a Grammy in 1997 for a gospel album that earned platinum status, and his "What It Was, Was Football" monologue, recorded in 1953, sold 800,000 copies.
Griffith was an intensely private person, preferring to live quietly among friends in North Carolina rather than in the spotlight that inevitably followed performers of his stature. His body of work, though, remains a much-honored public treasure. He was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts Hall of Fame two decades ago and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. He was humbled by both honors, he said, though he thought that having a 10-mile stretch of a North Carolina highway named in his honor was pretty neat, too.
The world of entertainment has changed considerably since Griffith first made his mark in that realm. One thing unlikely to change, though, is Griffith's place in the history of TV, movies, stage and recordings.
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