The very sad news breaking everywhere right now is that Andy Griffith has passed away at the age of 86 at his home in Manteo, on North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Awright well, what can be said that hasn't already been during the course of his long life: Griffith was an incredible performer, whether he was acting or singing or doing comedy... like what started it all for him, his 1953 monologue "What It Was, Was Football":
A few years later Griffith was in No Time for Sergeants, considered by many to be his single funniest work...
And 'course it wasn't long afterward that Griffith was keeping the sleepy little town of Mayberry safe and sound as Sheriff Andy Taylor. Griffith first put on the badge in a "backdoor pilot" episode of Danny Thomas's Make Room for Daddy (an episode which also featured future co-stars Ronnie Howard and Frances Bavier). More than fifty years later, and The Andy Griffith Show is still playing, somewhere, throughout the world in syndication.
But if you seriously want to see Griffith shine, you have to step away from his comedic repertoire and look at what he was capable of doing as a serious dramatic actor. The first time I saw Andy Griffith as anything apart from Sheriff Taylor, it was his portrayal of real-life murderer John Wallace in the 1983 television movie Murder in Coweta County...
Griffith starred opposite Johnny Cash, who played the Georgia sheriff who brought Wallace down for murder. The final scene, showing a shaven-headed Griffith strapped down in the electric chair, would be a particularly unsettling image for anyone who grew up with The Andy Griffith Show.
But that's downright mild compared to what was Andy Griffith's very first movie: from 1957, it's A Face in the Crowd.
I've no idea how else to put it: if you've never seen it before, A Face in the Crowd will scare the hell out of you...
I first saw it about a year and a half ago when TCM ran it. Directed by Elia Kazan, A Face in the Crowd has Andy a long, long way from Mayberry as drunken drifter "Lonesome" Rhodes. It's a brutal morality tale about celebrityhood and its power to corrupt. A movie that in many ways was far ahead of its time and even prophetic. And Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes is positively the meanest son of a bitch you're likely to see in any movie. If you haven't seen it already, I have to recommend it as being perhaps the finest work that Andy Griffith ever pulled off.
But today, Griffith is mostly going to be remembered as "America's Sheriff": the chief constable of a town that never really was but we all wanted to visit.
Thoughts and prayers going out to his family.