Actor Andy Griffith Dies at 86

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By MARTHA WAGGONER, Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It was all too easy to confuse Andy Griffith the actor with Sheriff Andy Taylor, his most famous character from "The Andy Griffith Show."

After all, Griffith set his namesake show in a make-believe town based on his hometown of Mount Airy, N.C., and played his "aw, shucks" persona to such perfection that viewers easily believed the character and the man were one.

Griffith, 86, died Tuesday at his coastal home, Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie said in a statement.

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"Mr. Griffith passed away this morning at his home peacefully and has been laid to rest on his beloved Roanoke Island," Doughtie told The Associated Press, reading from a family statement.

Although he acknowledged some similarities between himself and the wise sheriff who oversaw a town of eccentrics, they weren't the same. Griffith was more complicated than the role he played — witnessed by his three marriages if nothing else.

But that perception led people to believe Griffith was all that was good about North Carolina and put pressure on him to live up to an impossible Hollywood standard.

He protected his privacy in the coastal town of Manteo, by building a circle of friends who revealed little to nothing about him.

Strangers who asked where Griffith lived would receive circular directions that took them to the beach, said William Ivey Long, the Tony Award-winning costume designer whose parents were friends with Griffith and his first wife, Barbara.

Craig Fincannon, who runs a casting agency in Wilmington, met Griffith in 1974. He described his friend as the symbol of North Carolina.

That role "put heavy pressure on him because everyone felt like he was their best friend. With great grace, he handled the constant barrage of people wanting to talk to Andy Taylor," Fincannon said.

In a 2007 interview with The Associated Press, Griffith said he wasn't as wise as the sheriff, nor as nice. He described himself as having the qualities of one of his last roles, that of the cranky diner owner in "Waitress," and also of his most manipulative character, from the 1957 movie "A Face in the Crowd."

"But I guess you could say I created Andy Taylor," he said. "Andy Taylor's the best part of my mind. The best part of me."

Griffith had a career that spanned more than a half-century and included Broadway, notably "No Time for Sergeants;" movies such as Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd"; and records.

"No Time for Sergeants," released as a film in 1958, cast Griffith as Will Stockdale, an over-eager young hillbilly who, as a draftee in the Air Force, overwhelms the military with his rosy attitude. Establishing Griffith's skill at playing a lovable rube, this hit film paved the way for his sitcom.

He was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts Hall of Fame in 1992 and in 2005, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the country's highest civilian honors.

His television series resumed in 1986 with "Matlock," which aired through 1995.

On this light-hearted legal drama, Griffith played a cagey Harvard-educated attorney who was Southern-bred and -mannered with a leisurely law practice in Atlanta.

Decked out in his seersucker suit in a steamy courtroom (air conditioning would have spoiled the mood), Matlock could toy with a witness and tease out a confession like a folksy Perry Mason.

This character — law-abiding, fatherly and lovable — was like a latter-day homage to Sheriff Andy Taylor, updated with silver hair and a shingle.

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In short, Griffith would always be best known as Sheriff Taylor from the television show set in a North Carolina town not too different from Griffith's own hometown of Mount Airy.

In 2007, Griffith said "The Andy Griffith Show," which initially aired from 1960 to 1968, had never really left and was seen somewhere in the world every day. A reunion movie, "Return to Mayberry," was the top-rated TV movie of the 1985-86 season.