Griffith's contributions to television history are fondly remembered across the country, but nowhere more so than his Mt. Airy, N.C., hometown, which served as the template for the fictional Mayberry on "The Andy Griffith Show." Local residents and visitors to Mount Airy began placing flowers and other mementos at the foot of the Andy and Opie statue outside the Surry Arts Council, following news of his death Tuesday.
Actor Andy Griffith, right, waves to the crowd as his wife Cindi, gives him a hug during a ceremony dedicating part of U.S. Hwy 52 the Andy Griffith Parkway in Griffith's hometown of Mount Airy, N.C., Wednesday Oct. 16, 2002.
Mount Airy, N.C., native Andy Griffith, who went from hometown boy to film and television star and, ultimately, international icon, died this morning at his beachfront home in Manteo and, according to a statement from the Dare County, N.C., Sheriff’s Office, has been “laid to rest” on Roanoke Island.
He was 86.
Emergency medical services were called to his Highway 64 home in Roanoke Island shortly after 7 a.m. this morning, and Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie said Griffith died at that time in his home. A cause of death has not been released.
By 1 p.m., the sheriff’s office said Griffith had already been buried.
The star, who is identified with the iconic hometown sheriff Andy Taylor in the fictional town of Mayberry, had been in declining health for more than a decade. He suffered a heart attack in 2000. At that time Griffith underwent quadruple bypass surgery.
Intensely private, Griffith kept out of the public spotlight when not on the stage, film, or on television. He was born in Mount Airy in 1926, where he cultivated an interest in music, singing and acting.
In 1947, three years after graduating from Mount Airy High School, Griffith was cast in the still-running production of “The Lost Colony” on Roanoke Island. He held several roles in the production, until finally earning the role of Sir Walter Raleigh.
Later Griffith made his name as a comedian, with such classic routines as “What it Was Was Football” and “Romeo and Juliet,” and then moved into movies, where he was cast in what became a break-out role in the 1957 film “A Face in the Crowd.”
Griffith made additional film and television appearances before reaching fame starring as Sheriff Andy Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show” from 1960 to 1968, and later portrayed a shrewd Southern lawyer in “Matlock.”
“The Andy Griffith Show” is still one of the most popular syndicated shows, regularly showing on cable television and as local programming in markets throughout the South. “Matlock,” too, makes regular appearances on cable television.
Mayberry, where Griffith spun hometown wisdom with a healthy does of comedy as Sheriff Taylor, was said to be based largely on his memories of growing up in Mount Airy, where Mayberry fixtures such as the Snappy Lunch (still in business) and the Blue Bird Diner operated. He even hinted this was the case in a Mount Airy appearance in 2002.
“People started saying that Mayberry was based on Mount Airy,” he said at the time. “It sure sounds like it, doesn’t it?”
Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry Arts Council, issued this statement following notification of Griffith’s death:
“We are broken-hearted,” she said. “Andy Griffith means the world to the arts everywhere – not just here in Mount Airy. His contribution to us, the Surry Arts Council, and the town of Mount Airy cannot be measured.”
Jones said the Mount Airy community was “blessed to have known him.”
“We will cherish is his art, his music, his talent, and of course, our beloved “Andy Griffith Show.”
“Our prayers and love go out to Cindi. We know that Andy is at peace and that is what is important right now,” she said of Griffith’s wife.
Griffith was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 by President George Bush, for “demonstrating the finest qualities of our country and for a lifetime of memorable performances that have brought joy to millions of Americans of all ages.”
He received a Grammy award in 1997 for Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album for “I Love to Tell the Story — 25 Timeless Hymns.”
A December 2011 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling found Griffith was the third most popular person living in North Carolina, after Billy Graham and coach Dean Smith.