I have some terribly sad news to report today, as one of the most beloved TV stars in the history of the medium's existence has passed away. Whether you knew him best as kindly Sheriff Andy Taylor, crafty lawyer Ben Matlock, or dastardly politician Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes in the classic Elia Kazan film A Face In The Crowd, it's incredibly likely that Mr. Andy Griffith made an impression on your life in his own special way.
I'm not going to attempt to write a biography of the man, as his legendary career has spanned over six decades. I will say that there is no better testament to Griffith's talent then the contrast between his work in the aforementioned A Face In The Crowd, and his signature role as Andy Taylor. Both are ostensibly "country boys" with "old-fashioned values", but under the surface of Rhodes lies a level of hatred, bigotry, and malevolence toward his fellow man that stands in the starkest of contrasts to the wise, kind, laid-back demeanor of America's favorite Sheriff. I'd hate of think of Lonesome Rhodes trying to raise Opie. The kid would probably grow up to be an armed robber.
If those were his only two hall of fame worthy roles, Griffith's legacy would already be assured. But in 1986, years after the end of the show that bears his name, Andy found an unlikely career resurgence in the form of Matlock. Make all the jokes you want about it being the quintessential "show for old people", but aging attorney Ben Matlock is just as great of a character as Rhodes or Taylor, albeit in a different way. Matlock used his advanced age to his advantage, as his opponents in the courtroom rarely saw him coming before he completely destroyed their case. Just as with The Andy Griffith Show, Matlock re-runs will continue to be shown on TV for untold decades to come.
Griffith's TV son Ron Howard offered these thoughts about the man after the news broke - "His love of creating, the joy he took in it whether it was drama or comedy or his music, was inspiring to grow up around. The spirit he created on the set of The Andy Griffith Show was joyful and professional all at once. It was an amazing environment. And I think it was a reflection of the way he felt about having the opportunity to create something that people could enjoy. It was always with respect and passion for the opportunity and really what it could offer people in a very unpretentious and earthy way. He felt he was always working in service of an audience he really respected and cared about. He was a great influence on me. His passing is sad. But he lived and a great rich life.” That he did Ron, that he did.
I wasn't even old enough to watch TV when Matlock ran, but I watched a lot of re-runs in my teens. I always loved it. (This reminds me that it's one of the few 80s shows I have yet to pick up on DVD.)
I am grateful to Mr. Griffith for the countless hours of big-screen and small-screen entertainment he provided over so many decades. He has spent all his life making millions of people a little happier—not a lot of people can claim to have done that. It is sad to see yet another TV icon go, but he will always live on in his films and shows. Rest in peace Mr. Griffith.
Level 1 (36%) Since: 17/Apr/12
Message Posted On Jul 4th, 2012, 2:45 am
I was a little older than tinalessia (in my 30's) when "Matlock" aired, but other than that, I agree with everything she said. Mr. Griffith brought a lot of entertainment to my life. TV Land is a lesser place today with his passing. RIP, Mr. Griffith.
Level 2 (66%) Since: 12/Oct/07
Message Posted On Jul 3rd, 2012, 5:02 pm
Michael what a lovely article, thank you. If Matlock was for the elderly, no one mentioned it to me. I actually watched it all the time as a teen. I loved his character. From Mayberry to Matlock, Andy Griffith will be missed. Rest in Peace young man.