on July 3rd, 2012 at 07:26 pm
It is with a heavy heart that I must report that today, we lost Andy Griffith. He died today at the ripe old age of 86, of undisclosed causes at his Roanoke Island, NC home and was buried less than five hours later. CNN's website has the full story here, and Wikipedia outlines his life and career here.
Actor, director, writer and producer in stage, screen and television; gospel singer and comedian; genuine American cultural icon - all these things and more can be said of Mr. Griffith. He earned a place in the hearts of millions in all parts of the US (and elsewhere in the world, as well)...but for those of us born and raised in the South, he was more than just a beloved entertainer, or even a favorite son. His now-classic program The Andy Griffith Show, aired on CBS from 1960 to 1968 (when it transmogrified into Mayberry RFD, with the late Ken Berry taking over the lead as a new character), had already just ended its third smash-hit season when I was born. But I grew up watching it in reruns on weekday afternoons, as so many of my generation and the ones after did, and came to know that sleepy little "Nawth Cah-ligh-na" town quite well.
For us Southern folk, this was the first representation of our people and way of life on TV or in film that did not ridicule or belittle us as ignorant rubes and moonshine-swilling hicks. There was humor, to be sure—it was at least nominally a situation comedy, after all—but the humor was never mocking or stereotypical as so many other shows purporting to depict Southern culture had been. In many ways, Sheriff Andy Taylor reminded me of my own father—not perfect as a man or a parent, but trying awful hard; possessed of a down-to-earth wisdom (some might call it just plain "common sense," which is not nearly as common as we all wish it were) that took me most of my adolescence to finally appreciate; a gentle sense of humor and a strength of character rare in any culture; a masculine man beyond any question, who nonetheless still managed to convey to his child the boundless love every father should have for his children. And if Mayberry did seem rather lily-white for being a Southern town, there were enough other shows in the 1960s addressing this country's notorious racial problems that it is hard to begrudge people seeking respite from the fear and hopelessness of that era's headlines for tuning in, or CBS and Griffith for providing it.
Just as later shows like Good Times and Welcome Back, Kotter would help white America unlearn its assumptions about non-white families and the real world they inhabited, The Andy Griffith Show helped Yankees and other non-Southerners learn that not all of us from below the Mason-Dixon Line were either irredeemable racist scum or naïve bumpkins. For that alone, Andy Griffith deserves to be remembered with kindness, appreciation...and not a little bit of regional pride.
Deepest sympathies to his widow Cindi and the rest of "Uncle" Andy's surviving family, his colleagues and friends...and heartfelt thanks for a lifetime of entertainment from a little Cajun boy who probably watched way more TV than was good for him.