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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — He was a vocalist, an actor, a stand-up comic, a producer and once even a schoolteacher, but we knew him best for creating the mythic Mayberry, a Camelot in bib overalls where home-spun wisdom reigned, in “The Andy Griffith Show.”
He was Andrew Samuel Griffith, but we knew him best as “Andy.” He died Tuesday at age 86 in Manteo, N.C.
Griffith was born in Mount Airy, N.C., on June 1, 1926, son of Carl and Geneva Griffith. He took a liking to music and learned to play the trombone at 16.
Despite a so-so academic record, he was industrious, earning enough money sweeping the high school after classes to buy a bass horn and guitar.
He went on to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and majored in music, taking five years to get his degree in 1949. He taught school for three years in Goldsboro, N.C.
Lanky and handsome, his head thick with wavy black hair, he found summer work at the outdoor drama “The Lost Colony” in Manteo. Griffith played Sir Walter Raleigh from 1949 to 1953 and appeared on the dinner club circuit as a comedian and singer.
Motoring one evening in 1953 from Chapel Hill to an appearance in Raleigh, Griffith was struck by an inspiration that would ignite his career.
He dreamed up a comic monologue about a country bumpkin mystified by a game “where you try to run across a cow pasture without getting hit or stepping in something.”
It got big laughs and Griffith spun to fame on a phonograph needle.
“What It Was Was Football” sold a million copies. It got him on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” And it established Griffith as a Southern comedic voice, leading to a role as the hillbilly recruit in the TV production of “No Time for Sergeants” and then the same role on Broadway, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award.
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