Television icon Andy Griffith, best known as the sage town sheriff in the ’60s sitcom The Andy Griffith Show and as a cantankerous defense attorney on 1980s-’90s drama Matlock, died today in Roanoke Island, N.C. He was 86 years old. Friend and former University of North Carolina president Bill Friday confirmed the news to WITN News, an NBC affiliate in Washington, N.C.
Born an only child in Mount Airy, N.C., Griffith spent his boyhood listening to music. He aspired to be an opera singer before turning his attention to acting after college at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He began his career as a comedic monologist with the 1953 release of What It Was, Was Football, a massive hit both on radio and in stores. On Broadway, he earned Tony nominations playing a country bumpkin in the Army-based comedy No Time for Sergeants and a sheriff in the musical Destry Rides Again. Then Hollywood beckoned. In his first film, Elia Kazan’s critically acclaimed A Face in the Crowd, Griffith portrayed another country boy, this time with a manipulative and power-hungry streak. He followed it with a film version of No Time for Sergeants, featuring future Andy Griffith Show costar and lifelong pal Don Knotts.