Andy Griffith in 1983 (AP Photo / Wally Fong)
Andy Griffith was one of those rarest of performers – the kind who play one very iconic role, but don't spend the rest of their lives trying to escape from that role's shadow.
Griffith could easily have been fenced in by his work on The Andy Griffith Show, always playing some version of the gentle, civic-minded sheriff and single father (and the straight man to the bumbling comic relief of Don Knotts' Deputy Barney Fife, Jim Nabors' Gomer Pyle, and George Lindsey's Goober Pyle). The show has gone down in TV legend as one of the most successful, best-loved, and longest-lived shows of all time. During its eight seasons, The Andy Griffith Show consistently ranked in the top ten, and even 44 years since its end, it still lives on as a TV Land favorite.
But Griffith's talent helped him rise above typecasting. We loved him as a good guy, but he played villains, too. 1983's Murder in Coweta County was one of many TV movies and miniseries Griffith appeared in – this time, as a murderer instead of the sheriff (that role went to Johnny Cash).
In 1986 Griffith took on another long-running, iconic role – that of criminal defense attorney Ben Matlock. Other than his career in the law, the main character of Matlock didn't have a lot in common with The Andy Griffith Show's Sheriff Andy Taylor – the new show had closer ties to other courtroom dramas than to Griffith's previous work. And his new character was also successful – the show ran for nine seasons and was a strong contender on Tuesday nights.
Griffith didn't even allow himself to be pigeonholed as an actor. He launched a singing career in later life, performing country gospel favorites – and winning a Grammy Award for his work in 1997.
Andy Griffith did it all… and when we heard of his death today, we wished he could have stuck around a little longer and done more.
Written by Linnea Crowther