The lesser known side of Andy Griffith

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Sitcoms are an all-time family favorite in most households around the world, and with America leading the way in their creation it is no surprise that they have had some unforgettable classics over the years! With the likes of the old-time favorites such as Seinfeld, Cheers, and ‘Friends’, there are plenty of modern contenders, such as The Big Bang Theory, Parks and Recreation, and Brooklyn 99. Over the decades we’ve laughed, we’ve cried, and we’ve celebrated with the characters as we’ve seen their stories twist and turn to the endings we now know and love. It is hard to remember a time before these ever existed!

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One sitcom that can be noted as successfully paving the way with its comedy storylines though is The Andy Griffith Show! Starting its life in black and white, turning to color would bring the characters even more to life than the actors had already made them! With the unforgettable theme tune to the characters we grew to adore, this show never failed to disappoint when it came to entertainment! Some of the greatest scenes on television have been created on this show – we only need to mention the word “pickle,” and it will have most fans in hysterics! The man behind the title though was Andy Griffith, who bought the lovable sheriff to life through his amazing acting.

Andy Griffith proved just how far one person could come in life. It’s not all about riches when it comes to becoming a superstar, as Andy Griffith was quick to show with his upbringing. However, this superstar grew and grew in popularity with every project he undertook, and created characters that have gone down in history. With his full and plentiful life, times weren’t always a walk in the park for this actor. Looking through Andy Griffith’s story just shows the incredible highs he got to ride, as well as the unbelievable struggles he had to face along the way. Could he always be able to come out the other side fighting? Or would one day push him just that bit too far?
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The early years

Andy Samuel Griffith, born June 1, 1926, in North Carolina, is the son and only child of Geneva and Carl Lee Griffith. He had a troubled upbringing, though, as Griffith lived with his relatives until his parents had saved enough money to be able to afford a house. The family was so poor that as a baby Griffith was forced to sleep in dresser drawers for months as they couldn’t afford a crib or another bed.

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Finally getting a bed

When Griffith was three, his father had begun to work as a carpenter and managed to buy the family a home in a blue-collar neighborhood. Growing up listening to music, Griffith entered school a shy and withdrawn character. It wasn’t until he found a way to make the other students at school laugh that he began to come out of himself more! The change led to Griffith getting involved in drama at school, and landing roles in the plays they would put on.

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Musical man

While still as school Griffith was taught how to play the trombone. This love of music gave him the push to attend the University of North Carolina. Here Griffith studied music and graduated in 1949 with a Bachelor of Music Degree. Performing in plenty of plays while here gave Griffith the chance to further his acting skills too. Following his graduation, Griffith went on to teach music and drama for a number of years at a high school in North Carolina.

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A chance to break free

Following on from years of teaching, Griffith and then-wife Barbara Edwards decided to make a change for the pair of them. Barbara, who was an actress at the time, and Griffith set out to attempt careers as entertainers! Choreographing a routine they could travel around with; the pair combined singing and dancing, as well as monologues read by Griffith himself. One monologue, in particular, was What It Was, Was Football and told the story of someone trying to figure out what was happening in a football game.

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Getting an instant hit

The monologue was released by Colonial Records under the same name in 1953 and quickly picked up popularity. The single was an instant hit and climbed to a staggering number nine in the charts! It also went on to become one of the most popular comedy monologues of all time! Following on from the success of the single, Griffith and Barbara moved to New York so that Griffith could become a guest monologist for Ed Sullivan on his show in 1954.

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Not just A Face in the Crowd

A Face in the Crowd was released in 1957, and gave Griffith the opportunity to have his film debut! Playing the role of a hungry for power and manipulative country boy, Larry Rhodes was the star of the film. The movie initially didn’t receive great reviews and left critics with mixed emotions. However, in 2008 the film was chosen to be preserved in the U.S. National Film Registry after it popularity growth. Griffith was once reported to say how the film was much more popular decades after its release.

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Making room for Andy Griffith

In 1960 Griffith made a guest appearance on the sitcom Make Room for Daddy as a mayor of a small town. The role, however, wouldn’t be small for Griffith as it landed him his own sitcom! The Andy Griffith Show was born and saw Griffith playing a gentle-hearted small town sheriff named Andy Taylor. The show was an immediate hit for the cast, and Griffiths worked on the development of every script, even though he was never credited for any writing roles.

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A rivalry between friends

The Andy Griffith Show allowed the star actor to work alongside his longtime friend Don Knotts. Together the two played best friends in the show and went on to take the nation by storm! The comedy the two shared on screen made the show into what it was, all set in the fictional town of Mayberry in North Carolina. However, Griffith always had ownership of 50% of the show and reaped in the profits. Knotts was a mere employee and quit after five seasons having been denied any ownership.

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No awards here

Even though the show was a major hit, Griffith was never nominated for an Emmy Award throughout the entire time he was starring on it. Knotts was frequently recognized and nominated for his role – even winning multiple awards! This could be just one more feud between the two, but Griffith didn’t appear to have any animosity towards Knotts seeing as their friendship was never broken. A real test of friendship showed how the boys could be happy for the others success and not be jealous!

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Not the only secret

The off-air rivalry wasn’t the only secret the show held! Griffith would often tease Knotts about his real name Jesse that Knotts reportedly didn’t like. Griffith would tease him playfully when the cameras weren’t rolling but decided that even though he had been originally chosen to play the funny character, Knotts suited the role better and stepped up to the part. The two became lifelong friends, and Griffith was apparently at Knotts’ bedside when he passed away during 2006. They really were friends till the end!

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Causing a splash

The opening credits for the show was probably the most memorable part for most of the audience. Filmed in Franklin Canyon Park, it shows Andy and Opie heading on their way to go fishing while the tune for the show is whistled. The actor that played Opie, Ronny Howard, was just 6-years old at the time and was unable to throw the stone far enough into the lake. A prop man was deployed as the young actor pretended to throw the rock resulting in a delay in the splash!

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A compromising position

While filming the show, Griffith and his on-screen partner, Aneta Corsaut, were rumored to have a romance that went beyond the screen. Even though Griffith was married during the show, the rumors quickly spread around. They weren’t helped by the fact that as a prank one of the crew members decided to dress like a waiter to deliver food to the actor’s room. Upon entering he spotted Griffith and Corsaut in a rather compromising position – oops! It may not have been the reason, but in 1972 Griffith went on to divorce his wife of 23 years, Barbara Edwards.

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Marking the end of an era

Riding the success of the show opened the door for Griffith to explore his acting even further. The show was renewed for another season, but Griffith decided he wanted to pursue a film career instead of continuing with the show. The Andy Griffith Show went on for 11 seasons in total and ended while at the top of the Nielsen’s Ratings. It was one of three to ever do this, including the I Love Lucyn and Seinfeld shows. Reruns of the show were played for a staggering 51 years!

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Mayberry Days

Since the airing of the show, the local town Mount Airy, North Carolina, has held annual Mayberry Days. The town is said to have been the influence for the fictional Mayberry featured on the show. The last week of September every year features the town hosting the event where participants can listen to the music around at the time of the show, enjoy a parade, special guests, and an annual minute’s silence since the passing of the star actor. Sounds like the perfect place for any fan!

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Movie star time

Throughout most of the ‘70s, Griffith tried to take his career in a different direction after landing lead roles in a number of television films. Some of these included The Strangers In 7A, Winter Kill, and Savages. His most notable performances though were for his Father character in Murder in Texas that saw Griffith get his first and only Primetime Emmy nomination, and his villainous character in Murder in Coweta Country that saw him bring in rave reviews!

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Not all hits

Unfortunately for Griffith, after leaving his show, not all of his projects were instant hits. To regain success after the decline in ratings of his show Headmaster, Griffith took on a new project. The show was titled The New Andy Griffith Show and featured him starring as Andy Sawyer. Having guest appearances from his co-stars from his previous show made it confusing for the audience as they were all meant to be new characters. The show was a hit to start but got canceled after just one season.

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Matlock

Following time off of acting due to illness, Griffith was set to make his grand return, and make a return he did! 1986 saw the birth of the show Matlock that would continue for a nine-year run. The show followed Griffith starring as Ben Matlock and was another instant hit with the ratings rocketing sky high. Once again though, Griffith was never the nominee for any of the show’s Emmy Awards. However, People’s Choice Awards did recognize him for his work in the show. At last!

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Recent work

In more recent years, Griffith slowed down with his acting work. His last role on a television series was for Andy Griffith Show Reunion: Back to Mayberry in 2003, which featured the cast all getting back together one final time. His last movie role was in Play the Game in 2008. Griffith starred as lead role playing Grandpa Joe and would be his last film credit before his death. The film received average ratings and was unfortunately not the best way for the star to end his career.

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Unusual friendship

People may not know how close Griffith and actor Dick Van Dyke were in real life! The two met in 1954 and instantly hit it off! Becoming best friends, it was comedian Danny Thomas that gave the pair their own show each, so they had something in common. In the original episode of Matlock, Van Dyke made an appearance playing the judge and would go on eleven years later to star with Griffith again. The two were in Diagnosis: Murder which was Griffith’s last appearance before he retired.

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Music star

Over his years of acting, Griffith also managed to have a relatively successful career in the music industry! The star released a total of twenty albums, including several Best Of albums over the years. All beginning with his What it Was, Was Football in 1953, Griffith released Pickin’ and Grinnin’: The Best of Andy Griffith in 2005. With singing always being an underlying passion of the star, it is no surprise he liked to keep himself busy on the side in between movies!

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Name calling

During 2006 Griffith would find himself in court, but for a rather unexpected reason! William Harold Fenrick from Wisconsin legally changed his name to Andrew Jackson Griffith! The name change was done in time for Fenrick to run for sheriff of Grant County in November 2006. Fenrick lost the title, and ended up getting slapped with a lawsuit! The real Griffith accused him of violating trademark laws to get ahead in the election, but the judge ruled in favor of Fenrick!

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Third time lucky!

Griffith was no stranger to marriage, and enjoyed it so much he did it three times! Griffiths first marriage was to Barbara Bray Edwards on August 22, 1949. The couple adopted two children, Andy Samuel Griffith and Dixie Nann Griffith, during their relationship, but divorced in 1972. Tragically, Sam Griffith died on January 17, 1996, at just 38-years old due to complications related to years of alcoholism. Sam had been suffering from cirrhosis of his liver, as well as other health-related issues.

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Second time around

Griffith’s second wife was Solica Cassuto. Cassuto was working as a Greek actress, who wed Griffith in 1973. The two went on to separate in 1981 after just eight years together. Griffith’s third and final marriage was to Cindi Knight, a former actress herself and teacher, on April 22, 1983. The pair both met during Griffith’s time filming Murder in Coweta County. The couple lived out their remaining years spending a lot of their time on a 68-acre ranch found in Dare County, North Carolina.

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The beginning of the health issues

During April 1983, Griffith was devastatingly diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome. The disease causes rapid muscle deterioration as the immune system damages the nervous system. Contracting the illness meant that Griffith was left paralyzed from the knees down for around three months. After having spent six to seven months in rehabilitation, Griffith was able to go on to make a full recovery. This amazing feat allowed Griffith to return to acting again once he was fully recovered – incredible!

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Not the end for the star

Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the last time that Griffith was in the hospital over the next few decades. May 9, 2000, saw Griffith having to undergo a quadruple heart-bypass operation due to difficulties he was having. Griffith later went on to need hip surgery on September 5, 2007, after he suffered from a fall. It was unfortunate the actor had to spend the last couple of decades in and out of the hospital, but Griffith did always appear to make a full recovery!

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The loss of a star

Tragically on July 3, 2012, Andy Griffith died. Having suffered a heart attack the day before, this day saw the 86-year old actor bid a final goodbye. While at his home on Roanoke Island in North Carolina, the actor passed away just one month after celebrating his birthday. The previous month, while on a phone call to a longterm friend of his, Griffith is said to have been upbeat and still sounding strong, leaving his death as a huge shock for everyone.

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Quick burial

Griffith was surprisingly buried remarkably quickly after his death – less than five hours to be exact! At 11.30 am the star was laid to rest in the family cemetery on the island surrounded by his beloved wife and family. His widow, Cindi Knight, went on the following year to apply for plans to tear down one of Griffith’s houses. The news upset friends and relatives, causing controversy within the family. Knight confirmed she would keep the larger of the properties to convert into a museum as Griffith had wished.

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A friend from the past

Ron Howard, who played Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, paid tribute to the actor following his death. The two had been friends for years following the filming of the show and had regularly kept in contact following the actors going their separate ways. Howard was reported to talk about how the star had made an incredible atmosphere on the set of the show and managed to combine being thoroughly professional with being a joy to be around! Howard also commented on how much Griffith had influenced him in life.

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Granting his wish

A museum did indeed open for Andy Griffith and is located in Mount Airy. In September 2017 there was a grand reopening of the venue following its renovation. Here visitors can take a walk through Griffith’s life story while getting the chance to see over 1,000 pieces of memorabilia related to the actor – the largest collection of Griffith memorabilia in the world. Every aspect of the actor’s life story is documented here accentuating the depth of this man’s career. What a perfect memorial for the star!

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Leaving behind a legacy

Over his incredible years of acting, Andy Griffith has left behind a true legacy to his name. The actor has had incredible success over the years, and even though his talent was not always recognized by award committees, he won over the hearts of the nation time and time again with his performances. Leaving behind widow Cindi Knight and daughter Dixie Griffith, this superstar has left an impact on the world that will never be forgotten.

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