Andy Griffith, the country comedian whose aw-shucks demeanor carried him from a role as the fictional sheriff of sitcom haven Mayberry to a senior-citizen-friendly barrister named Ben Matlock, has died at the age of 86, according to press reports.
Mr. Griffith may be best known for his star turn as the central figure in "The Andy Griffith Show," a sitcom that also helped buoy the careers of Don Knotts and Ron Howard. But Mr. Griffith actually got his start singing, stage acting and performing monologues in the mid-1950s. He starred in such early-TV features as "No Time For Sergeants" (part of the United States Steel Hour) and films including "A Face in the Crowd"--Elia Kazan's dark look at celebrity, media and politics --before taking the popular role of Sherriff Andy Taylor on the program named after him.
Mr. Griffith had a strong hand in the development of every character on the program, which was less about the travails of a rural lawman than it was a depiction of small-town life. The actor held sway on the program from 1960 to 1968 ("The Andy Griffith Show" was transformed for a brief time into "Mayberry, R.F.D. ," starring Ken Berry). He was also a producer, director and writer on "Matlock," which featured him as a Southern attorney who always won his cases. "Matlock" aired on NBC and ABC between 1986 and 1995.
In addition to making appearances in a variety of TV films and shows, Mr. Griffith's folksy demeanor made him a popular commercial spokesman. On the "Andy Griffith Show," he and fellow actors talked to the audience about Post Oat Flakes, "the cereal that tastes like oatmeal cookies."
Ironically, considering Mr. Griffith's red-state fan base, one of his most recent commercials brought with it a significant deal of controversy. The ad, run in 2010 by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and touting changes made by Affordable Care Act, was criticized roundly by Republican senators for using tax dollars to "campaign" for political purposes.
Mr. Griffith had suffered from poor health in recent years, including heart surgery and a broken hip.