Andy Griffith, the honey-drawling North Carolinian who spent decades on television as rural America's favorite sheriff and later a wily but folksy Atlanta lawyer, passed away Tuesday morning at age 86, according to E! Online. Former University of North Carolina president Bill Friday, a good friend of Griffith's, told Washington, N.C. TV station WITN that Griffith died about 7 a.m. this morning Eastern time at his home in nearby Dare County.
A lifelong musician, Griffith often sang and played guitar himself on The Andy Griffith Show, and gave real-life bluegrass group the Dillards a recurring role on the series (which ran from 1960-68) as a hillbilly family band called the Darlings. After his 1958 comedy album Just for Laughs -- which included his famous routine "What It Was, Was Football" -- he recorded the follow-up Shouts the Blues and Old Timey Songs, which Capitol Records released in 1959.
Much later, Griffith recorded a string of inspirational albums starting with 1996's Somebody Bigger Than You and I. The next one, I Love to Tell the Story: 25 Timeless Hymns, went platinum. He followed with two more, 1998's Just as I Am: Favorite Old Time Hymns and 2003's The Christmas Guest.
On a more personal note, Rocks Off has been a lifelong fan of Griffith's since I used to watch The Andy Griffith Show with my dad as a toddler, and later discovered his acting range as the cornpone demagogue "Lonesome" Rhodes in Elia Kazan's 1957 film A Face In the Crowd. No Time for Sergeants, the 1958 comedy based on Griffith's standup routine about life as an airman drafted into the Air Force, is still one of our favorite movies to this day.
Andy Griffith gave my dad and I a lot of laughs while we watched his show, and I'd like to think the frequent musical interludes -- often featuring Denver Pyle as the rascally leader of the Darling clan, long before Uncle Jesse -- had something to do with my continuing love of roots music.
So so long, Andy. See you 'round the fishin' hole.
Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.