Published Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Actor Andy Griffith remembered locally for 'Murder in Coweta County' role

By W. WINSTON SKINNER

winston@newnan.com

While the world largely remembers Andy Griffith as a genial Southern lawman, some Cowetans remember another role he played – a hard, cruel John Wallace in “Murder in Coweta County.”

Griffith died Tuesday about 7 a.m. at his coastal North Carolina home, according to Associated Press. The actor was 86 years old.

“Mr. Griffith passed away this morning at his home peacefully and has been laid to rest on his beloved Roanoke Island,” Dare County Sheriff Doug Doughtie said, reading from a family statement.

Griffith had suffered a heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2000.

His career spanned more than a half-century on stage, film and television, but he would always be best known as Sheriff Andy Taylor in the television show set in a North Carolina town not too different from Griffith’s own hometown of Mount Airy, N.C.

Griffith set the show in the fictional town of Mayberry, N.C., where Sheriff Taylor was the dutiful nephew who ate pickles that tasted like kerosene because they were made by his loving Aunt Bee, played by the late Frances Bavier. He was a widowed father who offered gentle guidance to son Opie, played by Ron Howard, who grew up to become the Oscar-winning director of “A Beautiful Mind.”

Don Knotts was the goofy Deputy Barney Fife, while Jim Nabors joined the show as Gomer Pyle, the unworldly, lovable gas pumper.

On “Matlock,” which aired from 1986 through 1995, Griffith played a cagey Harvard-educated defense attorney who was Southern-bred and  mannered with a practice in Atlanta.

Griffith came to Georgia to film his role as Wallace, a prominent Meriwether County landowner, in “Murder In Coweta County.” The television movie first aired in 1983.

In a casting-against-type mode, the movie put the usually genial Griffith in the role of Wallace, who killed a farmhand, and Johnny Cash as Coweta Sheriff Lamar Potts, the hero in the story. June Carter Cash portrayed Heard County fortuneteller Mayhayley Lancaster, who testified against Wallace.

The television film was based on a true story and on the bestselling book of the same name by Newnan native Margaret Anne Barnes.

When asked in 2007 to name his favorite episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show,” Griffith chose shows that emphasized Knotts’ character. Griffith and Knotts had become friends while performing in “No Time for Sergeants,” which was released to theaters in 1958, and remained so until Knotts’ death in 2006 at 81.

He and his first wife, Barbara Edwards, had two children, Sam, who died in 1996, and Dixie. His second wife was Solica Cassuto. Both marriages ended in divorce. He married his third wife, Cindi Knight Griffith, in 1983.

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