Letting others get the laughs was something of a role reversal for Griffith, whose career took off after he recorded the comedic monologue ‘‘What It Was, Was Football.’’
That led to his first national television exposure on ‘‘The Ed Sullivan Show’’ in 1954, and the stage and screen versions as the bumbling draftee in ‘‘No Time for Sergeants.’’
In the drama ‘‘A Face in the Crowd,’’ he starred as Larry ‘‘Lonesome’’ Rhodes, a local jailbird and amateur singer who becomes a homespun philosopher on national television. As his influence rises, his drinking, womanizing and lust for power are hidden by his handlers.
‘‘Mr. Griffith plays him with thunderous vigor,’’ The New York Times wrote. Said The Washington Post: ‘‘He seems to have one of those personalities that sets film blazing.’’
Griffith said Kazan led him through his role, and it was all a bit overwhelming for someone with, as he put it, just ‘‘one little acting course in college.’’
‘‘He would call me in the morning into his little office there, and he'd tell me all the colors that he wanted to see from my character that day,’’ he recalled in 2007.
‘‘Lonesome Rhodes had wild mood swings. He'd be very happy, he'd be very said, he'd be very angry, very depressed,’’ he said. ‘‘And I had to pull all of these emotions out of myself. And it wasn’t easy.’’
His role as Sheriff Taylor seemingly obliterated Hollywood’s memory of Griffith as a bad guy. But then, after that show ended, he found roles scarce until he landed a bad-guy role in ‘‘Pray for the Wildcats.’’
Hollywood’s memory bank dried up again, he said. ‘‘I couldn’t get anything but heavies. It’s funny how that town is out there. They see you one way.’’
More recently, Griffith won a Grammy in 1997 for his album of gospel music ‘‘I Love to Tell the Story — 25 Timeless Hymns.’’
In 2007, he appeared in the independent film ‘‘Waitress,’’ playing the boss at the diner. The next year, he appeared in Brad Paisley’s awarding-winning music video ‘‘Waitin’ on a Woman.’’
Griffith was born in 1926 in Mount Airy and as a child sang and played slide trombone in the band at Grace Moravian Church. He studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and for a time contemplated a career in the ministry. But he eventually got a job teaching high school music in Goldsboro.
His acting career began with the role of Sir Walter Raleigh in Paul Green’s outdoor pageant, ‘‘The Lost Colony,’’ in Manteo. And he remained in the area even after superstardom knocked at his door.
Griffith protected his privacy by building a circle of friends who revealed little to nothing about him. Strangers who asked where Griffith lived in Manteo would receive circular directions that took them to the beach, said William Ivey Long, the Tony Award-winning costume designer whose parents were friends with Griffith and his first wife, Barbara.
Griffith helped Long’s father build the house where the family lived in a community of bohemian artists with little money, sharing quart jars of homemade vegetable soup with each other.
Both Long and Fincannon recalled Griffith’s sneaky tendency to show up unexpectedly — sneaking into the choir at ‘‘The Lost Colony,’’ or driving the grand marshals of the local Christmas parade incognito in his 1932 roadster convertible.
Fincannon described Griffith as the symbol of North Carolina, a role that ‘‘put heavy pressure on him because everyone felt like he was their best friend. With great grace, he handled the constant barrage of people wanting to talk to Andy Taylor.’’
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.
‘‘She and I are not only married, we’re partners,’’ Griffith said in 2007. ‘‘And she helps me very much with everything.’’
When asked if the real Griffith was more wise like Sheriff Taylor or cranky like Joe, the diner owner in ‘‘Waitress,’’ Griffith said he was a bit of both, and then some.
‘‘I'm not really wise. But I can be cranky,’’ he said. ‘‘I can be a lot like Joe. But I'm lot like Andy Taylor, too. And I'm some Lonesome Rhodes.’’
Associated Press Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle in New York contributed to this report.
Martha Waggoner can be reached at —http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc