Beloved actor Andy Griffith dies at 86


Bill Friday, one of Griffith's best friends, spoke with ABC11 early Tuesday and said he had been informed that the iconic actor died Tuesday around 7 a.m. at the age of 86.

The Dare County Sheriff's Office confirmed his death in a press release Tuesday afternoon. The release from Sheriff J.D "Doug" Doughtie said Griffith passed away at his home on Roanoke Island in Dare County.

His family said in a statement Tuesday that Griffith was laid to rest the same day of his death. "Andy Griffith passed away, after an illness, during the early morning on July 3 at his home in Manteo, N.C., with his wife Cindi at his side. Mr. Griffith has been laid to rest on his beloved Roanoke Island."

"Andy was a person of incredibly strong Christian faith and was prepared for the day he would be called Home to his Lord. He is the love of my life, my constant companion, my partner, and my best friend," a statement from his wife Cindi Griffith read. "I cannot imagine life without Andy, but I take comfort and strength in God's Grace and in the knowledge that Andy is at peace and with God."

Griffith was best known as playing Sheriff Andy Taylor and lawyer Ben Matlock.

Griffith made a career out of being southern, and being from a small North Carolina town.

"I am a southerner and I don't know people have predisposed ideas about southerners, but the truth of the matter is a lot of southerners are very bright," Griffith said in an interview before his death.

Actor, turned director Ron Howard remembered Griffith fondly.

"I've always been, you know, very aware of how fortunate I was," said Ron Howard, who played Opie on the Andy Griffith Show. "I was six when the show began. I was 14 when it ended. So I mean it really represents my childhood."

Though Sheriff Andy Taylor was the folksy father-figure to Howard's character, but in real life, Howard said Griffith was much more complex -- a practical joker, but deeply analytical and overwhelmingly talented.

"Far more intense than you would have expected, but not in a negative neurotic way," said Howard. "Just in a highly professional way."

Griffith was born and raised in Mount Airy -- a town most consider to be the real Mayberry.

The highlights of Griffith's acting career are from acts and characters that embraced his southern heritage.

In 1960, characters Andy, Barney, Opie and Aunt Bee from "The Andy Griffith Show" became icons of American life.

Twenty years later, Griffith got to play yet another southerner -- Ben Matlock, a sort of an older, gruffer, Andy Taylor.

He even re-launched his singing career with a series of gospel CDs.

Off-screen, Griffith did not spent much time in the spotlight.

However, he did campaign for four North Carolina governors, Terry Sanford, Jim Hunt, Mike Easley and Perdue.

Griffith even made an appearance at Easley's and Perdue's inaugurations.

In the fall of 2002, Governor Mike Easley unveiled road signs along Highway 52 through Mount Airy in Griffith's honor.

"And I say to you Andy that we are proud of you, as a North Carolinian, we are proud of you as an American," Easley said at the dedication. "You reflect the good hearted decencies that make us proud to call North Carolina home."

In 2008, Griffith reunited on screen with Ron Howard, who played Opie on "The Andy Griffith Show," for an internet campaign ad for Barack Obama.

Two years later, the iconic actor appeared in a 30-second TV advertisement pitching the new health care law to senior citizens. Leading some senators, including Senator Burr, to call for an investigation.

Griffith also established a scholarship for dramatic arts or music students at his alma-matter, UNC Chapel Hill.

For the most part, Griffith kept his private life very private. He was married three times.

His third wife, Cindi, helped him through one of the toughest times of his life -- his fight with Guillian Barre Syndrome. The disease nearly left him crippled physically.

His wife was with him to the end, mostly at the privacy of their home in Manteo.

Griffith has two children he adopted with his first wife, Barbara.

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