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Andy Griffith dies at 86

1:53 PM, Jul 3, 2012   |    comments
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Andy Griffith at a ceremony where he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2005 (Getty Images)

DARE COUNTY, N.C. -- Television icon Andy Griffith passed away peacefully at his Roanoke Island home early Tuesday morning, according to a statement made by his family. He was 86.

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"He has been laid to rest on his beloved Roanoke Island," the family's statement read. CNN says Griffith was buried on his farm during a private service with his family at 11:30 a.m.

Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie told Norfolk NBC station WAVY that an ambulance went to Griffith's home Tuesday morning.

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Close Griffith friend and former University of North Carolina president Bill Friday said Griffith's secretary called him Tuesday morning and said Griffith passed away at 7 a.m.

Officials have not confirmed the cause of Griffith's death. 

Actor Ron Howard, who played Griffith's son, Opie, on "The Andy Griffith Show," told Deadline.com that Griffith "has not been well for some time."

"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," Howard told Deadline. "The spirit he created on the set of The Andy Griffith Show was joyful and professional all at once. It was an amazing environment."

Griffith lived on Roanoke Island, in the Outer Banks.

Griffith, who was born in Mt. Airy, N.C., was launched to fame in the television and Broadway play version of Mac Hyman's 1954 novel "No Time For Sergeants," about a young country bumpkin going to the Army. Griffith received a Tony Award nomination for the Broadway version of the play, which spawned a 1958 motion picture version and a short-lived 1964 series (which ran without Griffith), before serving as the major inspiration for the Andy Griffith Show spinoff series Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.

Griffith then became the iconic Sheriff Andy Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show for the CBS series, running from 1960-1968. The show was one of the rare shows to actually end its original run rated number one, and became a refuge from the social and political struggles raging outside the fictional world of the town of Mayberry.

After he left Mayberry -- on his own terms, not the network's -- Griffith starred in a number of TV movies and several television series, most notably 1979's Salvage 1, before landing as the good-hearted, deceptively smart type of Southerner he played so well in The Andy Griffith Show, in the legal drama Matlock.

Matlock, from 1986 to 1995 on both NBC and ABC. He played the title character, Atlanta lawyer Ben Matlock, who, like Perry Mason years before, always was able to figure out just "whodunit" before the final act.

Over the course of his career, Griffith performed stand-up comedy, including the 1953 recording, "What It Was, Was Football," which told the story of a country preacher who did not know what football is, accidentally going into a college footbal game, and his descriptions of that game. The record remains one of the best-selling comedy albums of all time.

In the 1960s, Griffith recorded an album of country and gospel tunes that included a vocal version of the Andy Griffith Show theme song, "The Fishin' Hole." In later years, Griffith recorded several gospel albums, most notably the platinum selling I Love to Tell the Story - 25 Timeless Hymns, for which he won a Grammy Award in 1997.

In 2000, Griffith underwent quadruple heart-bypass surgery and in 2007 had hip surgery after a fall.

Griffith and his first wife, Barbara Bray Edwards, married in 1949. They were divorced in 1972 and she got custody of their daughter Dixie and he got custody of son Sam, who died in 1996 after years of alcoholism. His second marriage, to Greek actress Solica Cassuto, lasted eight years, from 1973 to 1981.

He and Cindi Knight were married on April 12, 1983, when she was 27 and he was 56. A private man, he told the Virginian-Pilot in 2008 in a lengthy profile by Mal Vincent that he's friendly and outgoing to a point, but has been known to turn down requests for autographs.

"When my wife, Cindi, and I go somewhere and we don't want to be recognized. She says, 'Don't talk.' "

"The Andy Griffith Show" airs weekdays at 7:30 p.m. on 11Alive's sister station myATLtv. The station will begin airing a marathon of the show's classic black and white episodes at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

(WAVY Norfolk, WITN Wilmington and USA Today contributed to this report.)

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