Mount Airy, N.C. — Andy Griffith grew up in Mount Airy and lived in Manteo for decades, and both towns remembered a favorite son on Tuesday following his death.
Rain fell on Mount Airy Tuesday afternoon, reflecting the somber mood of a community that served as the template for Mayberry, the town Griffith presided over as Sheriff Andy Taylor in his 1960s television sitcom "The Andy Griffith Show."
Mount Airy resident Betty Lynn played the role of Thelma Lou, the girlfriend of Deputy Barney Fife, on the show. She said she was stunned by Griffith's death. noting that he sounded well when she spoke to him a month ago for his birthday.
"You always expected Andy to be there, like he was in the show," Lynn said. "He was always the backbone to everything. You expect him to be there, and now he won't be."
Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry Arts Council, said Mount Airy is heartbroken over Griffith's death.
"Andy Griffith means the world to the arts everywhere, not just here in Mount Airy. His contribution to us, the Surry Arts Council, and the town of Mount Airy cannot be measured," Jones said in a statement. "We are blessed to have known him. We will cherish is his art, his music, his talent, and of course, our beloved 'Andy Griffith Show.'"
Griffith is the third actor on the show to die in the last two months. George Lindsey, who played Goober Pyle, died in May, as did banjo player Doug Dillard, who appeared as a member of a band called the Darlings. Don Knotts, who played Barney Fife, died in 2006.
Lynn said Griffith's death is the hardest blow of all.
"Love is really based on sacrifice, and he sacrificed a lot all the time on the show," she said. "He was a wonderful person, and I really loved him a lot. I'm going to miss him."
Before Griffith became known as Sheriff Taylor, he got into acting as a member of "The Lost Colony" outdoor drama on the Outer Banks.
He performed in the play about English colonists on Roanoke Island while a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later when he taught at Goldsboro High School, eventually playing the role of Sir Walter Raleigh. He was in the troupe in 1947, when the outdoor theater burned to the ground.
"Mr. Griffith was one of those guys who was out there day and night rebuilding the theater, and it was one of the proudest moments of his life that, on the seventh day, the show went on," Lost Colony actor Don Bridge said Tuesday.
During his work on the show, he fell in love with Manteo – he once told a reporter the town was as close to Mayberry as any place in America – and vowed to return to Roanoke Island to live.
"A story that I've been told is (that), after rehearsals, he would walk out along the beach behind the theater, and he saw this beautiful house on the top of the hill," said Charles Massey, Lost Colony marketing director. "He said, 'If I ever make it, if I ever get any money, I'm going to buy that house, and that's where he died this morning."
Marjalene Thomas shared the stage with Griffith for six years. She remembers him as a generous man who loved his community.
"He loved this island and this area as much as I do," Thomas said. "He was always giving back and those of us around here know that. I'm not sure the rest of the world does."
Griffith also met his first wife, Barbara Edwards, at the show.
"As sad as it is, he just had his 86th birthday, that's pretty good. That's a long run, as they say in show business," Massey said. "It's a love story, it's a story of accomplishment and a story of a life, I think, well lived."
The Lost Colony, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this summer, mourned the loss of its most famous cast member by dimming the lights before Tuesday night's performance.