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July 3, 2012

Andy Griffith, folksy TV sheriff and comedian, dies at 86

(Continued)

Barney: I try.

As a TV Guide reporter put it in a 1963 article on the show's popularity: "Such dialogue - read with sly amusement by Griffith, unflinching earnestness by Knotts - demands an extraordinarily high degree of comedy acting and a solid grasp of the subtleties of character."

Considered the driving force behind the series, Griffith was heavily involved with the show's production and helped shape the scripts and characterizations.

George Lindsay, who joined the series in 1965 as Goober, told the Times in 1993: "He is probably the best script constructionist that ever was." Griffith, he added, "made you operate at 110 percent because you brought yourself up to his level."

Ron Howard, who grew up to become one of Hollywood's top directors, considered Griffith to be "like a wonderful uncle to me."

Howard told People magazine in 1986 that Griffith "created an atmosphere of hard work and fun that I try to bring to my movies."

When Griffith and most of the major cast members reunited for "Return to Mayberry" in 1986, it was one of the highest-rated TV movies of the year.

"The backbone of our show was love," Griffith once said. "There's something about Mayberry and Mayberry folk that never leaves you."

The small-town atmosphere depicted in Mayberry wasn't far from Griffith's own boyhood in Mount Airy, N.C., a small town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he was born on June 1, 1926.

An only child, Griffith grew up singing and playing guitar with his mother. He learned to tell funny stories from his father, who earned a modest living at the Mount Airy Furniture Co.

Griffith majored in music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and dreamed of becoming a professional singer on stage. On a whim, he auditioned for a campus production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Gondoliers."

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