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On this Day in Movie History, July 3, 2012: Andy Griffith Passes Away at 86

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Friend and former University of North Carolina President Bill Friday first told WITN News that the “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Matlock” actor died at his home in Dare County, N.C.

The Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie said that Griffith died at about 7 a.m. “Mr. Griffith passed away this morning at his home peacefully and has been laid to rest on his beloved Roanoke Island,” Doughtie read from a family statement.

With his slow drawl and penchant for playing characters who wore their decency like a badge in shows like “The Andy Griffith Show,” the actor came to personify small-town values, with the emphasis on family and community. Working with legendary director Elia Kazan, Griffith gave his finest dramatic performance as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a drifter who is discovered by an ambitious producer and transformed into a national television phenomenon. Playing Sheriff Andy Taylor, a widower trying to raise a young son, on the long-running “The Andy Griffith Show,” the actor found the perfect vehicle for his easy-going delivery and comic talents.

Mayberry, the fictional North Carolina town where Taylor represented law and order, was populated by village eccentrics like hapless deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts) and naive gas station attendant Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors). Ron Howard, who played Griffith’s son on the program before starring in “Happy Days” and becoming an Oscar-winning director, paid tribute to his television dad on Tuesday.

“I’m forever grateful RIP Andy,” Howard twittered.

Although it remains his most iconic role, Griffith’s generosity as an actor may have worked against him when it came to awards — he was, amazingly, never nominated for an Emmy for his work as Taylor.

But popular culture had moved very far away from the bucolic Mayberry, and throughout the 1970′s and early 80′s, Griffith struggled to establish another show as successful as “The Andy Griffith Show.” Among his failed efforts were “Headmaster” (1970), “The New Andy Griffith Show” (1971) and “The Yeagers” (1980).

Griffith portrayed a folksy criminal defense lawyer with a penchant for courtroom dramatics and a love of hot dogs. In addition to his acting career, Griffith was a successful recording artist. He recorded several hit albums of Christian hymns for Sparrow Records and earned a Grammy Award for his work. Perhaps his most famous recording is “The Fishin’ Hole,” the jaunty theme song to “The Andy Griffith Show.”

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