Published Sunday, July 08, 2012

RIP, Sheriff Taylor

America lost one of its most beloved icons recently when Andy Griffith, whose most famous TV role earned him the title of “America’s Sheriff,” passed away at his North Carolina home at age 86.

Griffith earned degrees in music and drama from the University of North Carolina and taught high school briefly before pursuing a career in entertainment.

Griffith earned honors for his roles on Broadway and the big screen, but was most well known—and beloved—for his TV roles, most notably Sheriff Andy Taylor, who kept the peace in the town of Mayberry from 1960-68 in “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Years later, Griffith gained new fans for his portrayal of a crusty Georgia lawyer named Matlock, but it was Andy and Mayberry that Americans remember most fondly.

Who wouldn’t? The residents of Mayberry included Griffith, deputy Barney Fife—who was never allowed to carry more than one bullet—and Andy’s Aunt Bea, who helped the widowed sheriff raise a boy named Opie, better known these days as Hollywood director and producer Ron Howard.

Even the “offbeat” characters in Mayberry, including Floyd the barber, bumbling mechanic Gomer Pyle and town drunk Otis Campbell were endearing.

In Mayberry, the “bad” people had good hearts and were treated that way by Sheriff Taylor.

Mayberry was the kind of place we all wish we could have called home.

It was a place where neighbors knew and either cared about or at least tolerated each other. It was a place where winning the apple pie contest at the county fair was a bigger honor than taking the Nobel Prize for agriculture, a place where all the kids said “Ma’am” and “Sir,” where no one locked their doors at night, keys never left the car ignition and stealing watermelons was the ultimate teen crime.

Anyone born since 1970 will find it hard to believe that places like that ever existed except on a Hollywood sound stage. And Mayberry might have been too perfect by half, but it sure struck a chord with people. Maybe that’s why “The Andy Griffith Show” is still airing in every corner of the worldâ ¦ because people like to think that once upon a time, places like Mayberry really did exist.

But there aren’t any Mayberrys any more. Today, even the most innocent small town has problems with drugs, crime and corruption. Big cities have bigger problems. And bigger ideas about how to solve them.

The week Griffith passed away, a Detroit entrepreneur announced plans to create a zombie-based theme park in Motown’s abandoned neighborhoods. Mark Siwak said he wanted to offer customers a chance to see actors portraying “flesh and brain-eating zombies” limp around through abandoned homes and factories, terrorizing each other and viewers.

News like that makes you long for a place like Mayberry even more. Once the TV show folded, Mayberry became a footnote in American cultural history, just another place that existed only in our imaginations, but made wholly believable by the work of a country boy-turned actor with a gift for making us love him and the fictional place he called home.

Andy Griffith’s Mayberry will never return. But for a while, it was nice to think that Mayberry—or a place like it—might still exist in America.

And it’s nice to think that maybe one day, such places will exist again.

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