NEW: President Obama mourns loss of "a performer of extraordinary talent"
Actor Andy Griffith died after an unspecified illness, his family said in a statement
He "has been laid to rest on his beloved Roanoake Island," the family said
He is best known for his portrayal of Sheriff Andy Taylor on "The Andy Griffith Show"
Actor Andy Griffith, who played folksy Sheriff Andy Taylor in the fictional town of Mayberry, died Tuesday at the age of 86, his family said.
Griffith died at about 7 a.m. at his home on Roanoke Island, according to Dare County, North Carolina, Sheriff J.D. “Doug” Doughtie.
He passed away after an unspecified illness and “has been laid to rest on his beloved Roanoake Island,” the family said in a statement.
“Andy was a person of incredibly strong Christian faith and was prepared for the day he would be called Home to his Lord,” his wife, Cindi Griffith, said in the statement issued through the Andy Griffith Museum in Mount Airy, North Carolina.
Best known for his role on “The Andy Griffith Show,” the University of North Carolina music graduate also starred as a murder-solving Southern attorney in the television series “Matlock” during the 1980s and 1990s. He was also known for his roles in movies and on the stage, as a producer and as a Grammy Award-winning gospel singer.
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“North Carolina has lost its favorite son,” Gov. Beverly Perdue said.
“Throughout his career, he represented everything that was good about North Carolina: a small town boy and UNC graduate who took a light-hearted approach to some of the attributes he grew up with and turned them into a spectacularly successful career,” she said. “And regardless of where that career took him, he always came back to North Carolina and spent his final years here.”
Actor and director Ron Howard, who played Griffith’s son, Opie Taylor, on “The Andy Griffith Show,” said he is “forever grateful” to the actor.
“His pursuit of excellence and the joy he took in creating served generations & shaped my life,” Howard said on Twitter.
President Barack Obama also noted Griffith’s death, saying the actor had “warmed the hearts of Americans everywhere.”
“A performer of extraordinary talent, Andy was beloved by generations of fans and revered by entertainers who followed in his footsteps,” Obama said.
President George W. Bush honored Griffith in 2005 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for “demonstrating the finest qualities of our country and for a lifetime of memorable performances that have brought joy to millions of Americans of all ages.”
A member of the Televison Hall of Fame, Griffith also was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 2007. His 1996 album, “I Love to Tell the Story – 25 Timeless Hymns,” netted him a Grammy Award.
Born in Mount Airy, North Carolina, in 1926, Griffith graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1949 with a degree in music.
He originally wanted to be a preacher, he told American Profile magazine in a 2005 piece.
“I went to the bishop and said, ‘Can I major in music and still be a minister?’ and he said no,” the magazine quoted him as saying. “I went back and prayed over it for a couple of weeks, and I went back to the bishop and said, ‘I’m going to major in music.’ So that was it.”
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After teaching high school music for a few years, he began his entertainment career with a traveling act with his first wife, Barbara Edwards, according to biography.com.
After regular appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Griffith appeared in the 1955 Broadway play “No Time for Sergeants,” for which he received a Tony nomination. He later appeared in a film version of the play.
He was again nominated for a Tony in 1960 for the play “Destry Rides Again.”
He made his film debut in the critically acclaimed “A Face in the Crowd,” but it was the 1960 debut of “The Andy Griffith Show” that brought his greatest fame.
In the show, Griffith played the amiable sheriff of an small, idyllic town modeled on his own birthplace of Mount Airy. The gentle comedy continues to be broadcast and retains a following, including “Rerun Watchers Club” chapters around the country and on Facebook.
After his eight-year run as Taylor, the actor tried to break out of his mold as a genial father figure with mixed success.
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“I wanted to prove that I could play something else, but there were 249 episodes out there of ‘Mayberry,’ and it was aired every day. It was hard to escape,” Griffith said, according to a quote on IMDb.
A 2010 role in a television commercial for the Department of Health and Human Resources generated some political controversy.
In the commercial, Griffith praised the Affordable Care Act and its reforms. Department officials said the ad was meant to educate the public, but congressional Republicans said it was partisan propaganda and demanded that it be pulled.
Griffith came down with the muscular disease Guillain-Barre syndrome in 1983, according to biography.com, but made a full recovery. In 2000, he underwent quadruple bypass surgery, and had hip surgery following a fall in 2007, according to his IMDb profile.
Griffith’s first marriage ended in divorce in 1972. He married again in 1976 but divorced after five years, according to biography.com. In 1983, he married Cindi Knight, his current wife.
Griffith is survived by two children from his first marriage, according to the biography site. A third son died of an overdose at the age of 36, according to American Profile.
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