President Obama issued a statement today in tribute to Andy Griffith, who died today at age 86.
“Michelle and I were saddened to hear about the passing of Andy Griffith this morning. A performer of extraordinary talent, Andy was beloved by generations of fans and revered by entertainers who followed in his footsteps. He brought us characters from Sheriff Andy Taylor to Ben Matlock, and in the process, warmed the hearts of Americans everywhere. Our thoughts and prayers are with Andy’s family.”
Griffith and Ron Howard revived their Mayberry roles for a video for Obama in the 2008 campaign.
And when Griffith did a public service announcement for Medicare in 2010, it created some friction coming in the midst of the healthcare debate. Public Policy Polling even measured Griffith’s favorability rating, which dropped in North Carolina as the spot was viewed as expressing support for the Affordable Care Act.
Update: More on the political side of Andy Griffith: The New York Times, in a front page story, looks at how Griffith’s signature character, Sheriff Andy Taylor, contrasted to the redneck image of southern authority in the midst of the civil rights era.
Neal Genzlinger writes, “While the urbanites were ascendant, characters like Atticus Finch in “Mockingbird” and Sheriff Taylor of “The Andy Griffith Show” were keeping the flame of Main-Street nobility and wisdom alive. In Andy’s town, the fictional Mayberry, a place modeled on Mr. Griffith’s real hometown, Mount Airy, N.C., slick, eggheaded urban types didn’t generally swoop in and solve problems. More often, they were the problem.”
Griffith, he notes, was a Democrat, and was even asked once to run against Jesse Helms in North Carolina.
In the Washington Post, Mary Curtis writes, “Griffith supported another Democrat, N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue, in her campaign. Counting down the days of her lame-duck tenure and fresh off the GOP legislature’s successful override on three bills she vetoed, she said in her statement: ‘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.’
“In 2010, an ad in support of health care legislation seriously dented Griffith’s approval numbers in his beloved North Carolina, a poll showed. Which was enough of a shock that a Democratic consultant suggested to the News & Observer, ‘It’s a good time to call up Barney Fife.'”
Curtis adds that in the 1960s, Griffith skirted dealing with race on “The Andy Griffith Show” as it was a sitcom, and something that “Andy could not have solved in a half hour, so he left it alone.”
Variety’s Brian Lowry notes that Griffith’s legacy extended to “A Face in the Crowd,” in which Griffith’s Lonesome Rhodes had more than a few similarities to Glenn Beck.
Finally, so associated was Griffith with the Democratic Party that in 1990, state Democrats in North Carolina even urged him to run for Senate in a bid to unseat Jesse Helms. A poll conducted that year show that Griffith had a nine point lead on Helms.