"The second episode that we shot I knew Don should be funny and I should play straight for him," Griffith said. "That opened up the whole series because I could play straight for everybody else. And I didn't have to be funny. I just let them be funny."
Griffith's generosity toward his castmates paid off richly for those fellow actors, particularly Knotts.
Sheriff Taylor was ever-indulgent with the twitchy, bug-eyed Deputy Fife, and loved joshing with him just for good sport. The result was five supporting-actor Emmys for Knotts.
"What are the state police gonna think when they get here and find we got an empty jail?" rants Barney in one episode, as always worried about appearances. "They're gonna think this is just a hick town where nothing ever happens!"
"Well, now," Taylor says calmly, "you got to admit: That's about the size of it.
Letting others get the laughs was something of a role reversal for Griffith, whose career took off after he recorded the comedic monologue "What It Was, Was Football."
That led to his first national television exposure on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1954, and the stage and screen versions as the bumbling draftee in "No Time for Sergeants."
In the drama "A Face in the Crowd," he starred as Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, a local jailbird and amateur singer who becomes a homespun philosopher on national television. As his influence rises, his drinking, womanizing and lust for power are hidden by his handlers.
"Mr. Griffith plays him with thunderous vigor," The New York Times wrote. The Washington Post said, "He seems to have one of those personalities that sets film blazing."
Griffith said Kazan led him through his role, and it was all a bit overwhelming for someone with, as he put it, just "one little acting course in college."
"He would call me in the morning into his little office there, and he'd tell me all the colors that he wanted to see from my character that day," he recalled in 2007.
"Lonesome Rhodes had wild mood swings. He'd be very happy, he'd be very sad, he'd be very angry, very depressed," he said. "And I had to pull all of these emotions out of myself. And it wasn't easy."
His role as Sheriff Taylor seemingly obliterated Hollywood's memory of Griffith as a bad guy. But then, after that show ended, he found roles scarce until he landed a bad-guy role in "Pray for the Wildcats."
Hollywood's memory bank dried up again, he said. "I couldn't get anything but heavies. It's funny how that town is out there. They see you one way."
More recently, Griffith won a Grammy in 1997 for his album of gospel music "I Love to Tell the Story — 25 Timeless Hymns."
In 2007, he appeared in a critically acclaimed independent film, "Waitress," playing Joe, the boss at the diner. The next year, he appeared in Brad Paisley's awarding-winning music video "Waitin' on a Woman."
"Few people in this world will ever have more influence on our lives than Andy Griffith," Paisley said in a statement. "An actor who never looked like he was acting, a moral compass who saved as many souls as most preachers, and an entertainer who put smiles on more faces than almost anyone; this was as successful a life as is pretty much possible."
Griffith stepped back into his Sheriff Taylor role in 2008 when he appeared in a pro-Barack Obama campaign video directed by Howard and featuring the former child star chatting with Griffith and other former TV colleagues.
Griffith was born June 1, 1926, and as a child sang and played slide trombone in the band at Grace Moravian Church. He studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and for a time contemplated a career in the ministry. But he eventually got a job teaching high school music in Goldsboro.