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America's sheriff Andy Griffith dead at 86

4:01 PM, Jul 3, 2012   |    comments
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Actor Andy Griffith, who won the hearts of 1960s TV viewers with his role as gentle Sheriff Andy Taylor in "The Andy Griffith Show," then returned as a 1980s country lawyer in "Matlock," died Tuesday at 86.

MORE: TCM plans Andy Griffith movie tribute

The news was confirmed to North Carolina television station WITN by Bill Friday, former president of the University of North Carolina and a Griffith friend. Griffith began his entertainment career with comic monologues and moved into movies, debuting in 1957's "A Face in the Crowd" with Patricia Neal. But it was as the widower sheriff Andy Taylor on "The Andy Griffith Show" that he really made his mark.

The show, which also starred a young Ron Howard as Griffith's son Opie, and comedian Don Knotts as bumbling Deputy Barney Fife, ran from 1960-1968. Its setting, in the fictional small-town of Mayberry, became almost as famous as any one episode.

Griffith returned to TV stardom in 1986 as Ben Matlock, a Southern lawyer.

That show ran until 1995 and was seized upon by comedians as a punchline for its popularity with older Americans. In one "Simpsons" episode, a highway is renamed the Matlock Expressway so a town mayor can win the elderly vote. Griffith was married twice and had a son and a daughter.

He is survived by wife Cindi and his daughter Dixie. Son Andrew Jr., known as Sam, died in 1996.

Here's some of the reaction to Griffith's passing posted on Twitter:

Ron Howard: "Andy Griffith His pursuit of excellence and the joy he took in creating served generations & shaped my life I'm forever grateful RIP Andy"

Rodney Atkins: "Rest In Peace Andy Griffith. Praying for his family, friends and fans."

SouthernLiving: "Rest in peace Andy Griffith. Mayberry will always have a special place in our hearts."

Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott: "Heaven gained a talented man today. Mr. Andy Griffith, thanks for giving me amazing memories with my family growing up watching your show!"

Amy Grant: "From Team Amy - Go Rest High on that Mountain, Andy Griffith."

Dave Coulier: "RIP Andy Griffith. Thank you for all the laughs. I love Mayberry, and never knew that R.F.D. was for Rural Free Delivery. #AndyGriffith"

At last check we had already received 60 comments on Griffith's passing on our Facebook page, among them:

Jan D Harker: He was a great man and will be truely missed!!! RIP

Vic Lewis: Another American Icon is gone... very sad day!!!

Kathleen Joubert Taddia: So sad. Another of the great one's has left us.. He was a great actor, and a truely good man.. God Bless you Andy...

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