“I am from a little town in North Carolina. I have chosen to keep one foot in that life and my other foot in this life and I’ve had success with that.” –Andy Griffith
Andy Griffith is easily one of classic television’s most iconic actors. Best known for portraying Sherrif Andy Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show, he was also a comedian, producer, writer, and gospel singer. Deeply inspired by his own early life in North Carolina, Griffith often portrayed friendly characters who hailed from the South.
Andy Samuel Griffith was born to Carl Lee Griffith and Geneva Griffith in Mount Airy, North Carolina, on June 1, 1926. With a very meager income, Griffith’s parents saved to purchase a home and had their only son sleep in a dresser drawer while they worked to make ends meet.
When growing up, both music and laughter were strong sources of joy in Griffith’s life. His father found work as a carpenter and the family eventually bought a home in Mount Airy. In town, Griffith attended Mount Airy High School, developing an interest in drama. A minister by the name of Ed Mickey at the Grace Moravian Church taught Griffith to play the trombone, leading Griffith to participate in a brass band.
As fate would have it, Giffith would be cast in the play The Lost Colony, playing various roles throughout the show and soon taking on the role of Sir Walter Raleigh. Griffith continued his education at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, receiving his Bachelor of Music degree. Though he first intended to become a Moravian preacher, he switched his major to music and became involved in the Carolina Playmakers. There, he participated in many student operettas, later teaching music and drama at Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, North Carolina.
In 1949, Griffith married Barbara Bray Edwards. The couple adopted two children–Andy Samuel Griffith, Jr., and Dixie Nann Griffith–before divorcing in 1972.
Griffith took to the stage again as a monologist, delivering tales as a country preacher who tried to make sense of a football game. This comedic endeavor was a success for Griffith, opening the door to opportunities as a comedian. He soon appeared in the teleplay No Time for Sergeants and played the same role on Broadway, earning him a Tony Award nomination. He reprised the same role in the film No Time for Sergeants (1958), working alongside Don Knotts.
A far cry from his comic roles, Griffith’s film debut was in the drama A Face in the Crowd (1957) with Patricia Neal.
In 1960, Griffith appeared on The Danny Thomas Show as a sheriff and justice of the peace, service as the backdoor pilot for The Andy Griffith Show. In the same year, the show was launched on CBS, filmed at Desilu Studios. Griffith reunited with Knotts for the show, in addition to Frances Bavier and a young Ronny Howard. The show was a major success and Griffith was highly involved in script development. Griffith quit the show in 1967 to focus on his film career. The series progressed as Mayberry R.F.D., with Griffith working as a producer. Griffith also appeared in the reunion special Return to Mayberry with Knotts.
In the following years, Griffith started his own production company–Andy Griffith Enterprises–which allowed him to produce and star in various shows. Following his work in The Andy Griffith Show, his role in Matlock proved to also be a success.
Griffith went on to participate in many more television projects, in addition to fulfilling various guest appearances on other shows, including Fantasy Island, Here’s Lucy, Hawaii Five-O, and The Doris Day Show. His final guest role was in an episode of Dawson’s Creek.
Throughout his career, Griffith exhibited his talent and appreciation for music, as was his love for and devotion to his home state of North Carolina. He would go on to record several different albums, including a sung version of The Andy Griffith Show‘s theme song. Moreover, the show itself was inspired by Griffith’s time in Mount Airy, even referencing nearby Pilot Mountain as “Mount Pilot” in the show.
From 1973-1981, Griffith was married to actress Solica Cassuto. His final marriage was to Cindi Knight in 1983 until his passing.
Griffith died on July 3, 2012, from a heart attack and was buried in the Griffith family cemetery on Roanoke Island within five hours of his death. He was 86 years old.
Today, Griffith’s legacy is honored in numerous ways, especially in North Carolina.
Griffith’s childhood home stands at 711 E. Haymore St., Mount Airy, North Carolina. The home is decorated with Griffith memorabilia and can be rented to guests wishing to stay overnight.
Mount Airy High School is located at 1011 N. South St, Mount Airy, North Carolina. Griffith’s alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill remains a renowned institution in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Goldsboro High School, where Griffith once taught, is located at 901 Beech St, Goldsboro, North Carolina.
Thanks to the TV Land channel, there are two identical statues of Griffith and Howard, inspired by the opening sequence of The Andy Griffith Show. One statue exists in Pullen Park in Raleigh, North Carolina, (this one came first, to the dismay of fans who wanted it in Mount Airy) while the other is in Mount Airy (a direct response from TV Land to appease those fans!). The likenesses of both actors are well-depicted in this tribute. Here is the statue in Mount Airy, just outside of The Andy Griffith Museum & Playhouse:
The Andy Griffith Museum & Playhouse offers an exceptional tribute to the life and career of Griffith as well as his many co-stars. Here, visitors can enjoy interactive displays relating to Griffith’s work in music and movies, in addition to seeing an assortment of props and costumes from the show as well as replica sets. Visitors can also purchase some fun Griffith-related souvenirs from the museum gift shop. The museum is located at 218 Rockford St., Mount Airy, North Carolina.
In downtown Mount Airy, visitors will find the historic Earl Theatre, which displays various photographs and newspaper clippings relating to Griffith’s career. It is located at 142 N. Main St., Mt Airy, North Carolina.
Downtown Mount Airy itself stands as a living tribute to The Andy Griffith Show. The many businesses in town are directly inspired by the show, from Walker’s Drugstore to Floyd’s Barbershop. Fans of the show are sure to appreciate the array of old squad cars that offer up tours of Griffith-related sites all day long.
There is also a full replica of the show’s courthouse, making for some terrific photo opportunities!
Beyond North Carolina, there are additional tributes to Griffth and The Andy Griffith Show.
In Indiana, the Mayberry Cafe diner is decorated with memorabilia from The Andy Griffith Show. Moreover, a replica squad car from the show is parked outside. The Mayberry Cafe is located at 78 W. Main St., Danville, Indiana.
Griffith also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6418 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, California.
Fans of Griffith and his fine career are sure to enjoy a trip to his hometown.