Andy Griffith, the likable and versatile star who famously played a small town sheriff in The Andy Griffith Show, has died. He was 86 years old.
"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," the star's family said in a statement to ET. "Mr. Griffith has been laid down to rest on his beloved Roanoke Island. His favorite causes were Outer Banks Conservationists and the Griffith Scholarship Fund at UNC-Chapel Hill," the statement added. The TV icon had suffered a heart attack in the past and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2000.
In the 911 call
released by authorities in Dare County, NC, Griffith's wife Cindi reports, "He has lost consciousness, he's drooling out of his mouth..." Another woman then takes the phone and indicates the star's grave condition. "I think he's pretty much... um, he might have passed away. But we need help, he's not breathing, he's slumped over, I can't feel a pulse." The 911 operator is told that Griffith had "been ill all night" and became unresponsive after rising and getting into his wheelchair.
Later on in the call, the 911 dispatcher tells those in the house to put Griffith on the floor, to make sure his airway is clear, and to attempt CPR. But the same individual on the phone tells the operator that a doctor had given instructions the previous night not to attempt chest compressions on Griffith.
Griffith was born June 1, 1926 in Mount Airy, North Carolina. Although best known for his heartwarming '60s series The Andy Griffith Show, he also had experience in film, stage, and even in the recording studio -- winning a Grammy Award for his gospel album, I Love to Tell the Story: 25 Timeless Hymns.
Griffith and his first wife, Barbara Edwards, had two children, Sam, who died in 1996, and Dixie. His second wife was Solica Cassuto. Both of those marriages ended in divorce, but he married his third wife, Cindi Knight Griffith, in 1983.
In her own statement issued on Tuesday, Cindi Griffith said, "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, my best friend. 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."
In The Andy Griffith Show, he played sheriff of the quaint fictional North Carolina town of Mayberry. Much later in his career he portrayed a criminal defense lawyer in the TV series Matlock (1986-1995).
After graduating from college, Griffith brought his musical talents to high school students as a music teacher. But he soon decided to enter showbiz and started writing and performing comic monologues. His first TV role came in 1954 when he portrayed Will Stockdale, an intense military recruit, in No Time for Sergeants -- a role he reprised in the 1958 film version.
His first feature film role came in 1957 as Lonesome Rhodes in Elia Kazan's provocative A Face in the Crowd. Acting alongside such heavyweights as Walter Matthau and Patricia Neal, he played a small town yokel who becomes an overnight sensation when a TV station creates a show for him and his character turns out to be a malicious, egotistical monster.
The Andy Griffith Show was always near the top of the ratings during its eight-year run and in the years that followed, Griffith attempted to duplicate Mayberry's charm with shows such as The Headmaster and The New Andy Griffith Show, but they never managed to grab an audience. Griffith later started his own production company and starred in numerous made-for-TV movies including Murder in Texas, a role that earned him an Emmy nomination.
After playing the shrewd yet compassionate and good-natured lawyer Benjamin Matlock in the crime series Matlock, Griffith continued working in movies, including the 1996 Leslie Nielsen vehicle Spy Hard and the 2001 comedy Daddy and Them, starring and directed by Billy Bob Thornton.