In a week when we celebrated America’s birthday, one of TV’s most enduring cultural symbols passed away in his sleep.
It was Andy Griffith, who died of an apparent heart attack at home in North Carolina early on the morning of July 3 at age 86. And so, this week’s Top Five is devoted to this beloved star.
1) News flash: One of the first reports of Andy Griffith’s death last Tuesday was seen on “The Today Show,” a 20-second bulletin. In the brief story, Griffith was referred to as a star of movies and television, and also a recording star. Though he’s best remembered first and foremost for “The Andy Griffith Show” and then “Matlock,” he starred in well-regarded films such as “No Time for Sergeants” (1958 — with future TV co-star Don Knotts) and “A Face in the Crowd” (1957), one of the greatest movies ever made about television, as a matter of fact. Those familiar with “The Andy Griffith Show” will recall that Andy played guitar and sang occasionally on the show. In real life, he was a recording artist specializing in gospel music.
2) A true icon: The era in which Andy Griffith became a TV star was one that can hardly be imagined today by those too young to have lived then. It’s certainly true that in those days we viewers had far fewer choices of what to watch on television — basically three networks. Talk about unimaginable, right? But there it was. And as a result, a handful of TV shows would stick around for years and routinely draw one-third of the country every week — something unheard of today. That’s according to the audience measurement technology of the time, which counted “TV households” and “TV sets in use” as opposed to individual “people.” Thus, you would have shows such as “The Andy Griffith Show” drawing audience “shares” in the mid-30s (a percentage of the approximately 100 million TV households in the U.S. then).
So, when a guy like Andy Griffith, known to an entire generation of Americans as Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, passes away practically on the eve of July Fourth, you know it’s going to be the kind of celebrity death that will affect millions.
3) Opie remembers “Pa”: Ron Howard, 58 year-old director of one hit movie after another, has long acknowledged and celebrated his roots as a child actor on “The Andy Griffith Show.” When Andy Griffith died this past week, “Ronnie” — as he was known back when he played Sheriff Taylor’s son, Opie — came forward to reminisce and pay tribute to his friend and mentor. In a video tribute, Howard described the creative atmosphere Griffith fostered on the set. “In the end I think what Andy meant most to me was that he demonstrated this possibility that you could really have fun and work very hard toward trying to offer audiences something of real quality,” Howard said.
4) In memoriam: Here’s what “Ronnie” was talking about. In this 30-second “In Memoriam” tribute to Andy Griffith seen on “The Insider” this past week, the chemistry between Sheriff Andy Taylor and his son, Opie, is on full display. It was just magic — and as we all know, this kind of magic is a rare thing on television.
5) An interview with Andy: “The Insider” also dug up an interview with Griffith, conducted in 1992 and seen on “Entertainment Tonight” when he was being inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame along with Bill Cosby, Ted Koppel, Ted Turner, Dinah Shore and Sheldon Leonard.