With the passing of Andy Griffith last week, America lost a great talent and a great friend.
During nearly the entire decade of the 1960s, when America was full of upheaval and conflict, people turned to Andy Griffith for an escape and a reminder that America can be better than it sometimes is.
Griffith’s greatest creation, “The Andy Griffith Show,” ran from 1960 to 1968. It was the No. 1 show in the country when it ended its prime-time run, and it remains on the air to this day — 52 years after it debuted. In the half-century since Andy Griffith became a regular on America’s airwaves, the country’s population grew from 180.7 million to 311 million. In many ways, the country is a very different place than it was then, and yet the appeal of Griffith’s show remains, for good reason.
Critics say that “The Andy Griffith Show” gave us an idealized version of America. And what is wrong with that? Did the Founding Fathers — some of them slave owners —not do the same when they signed a Declaration of Independence that declared all men created equal and possessed of the right to liberty?
What Griffith gave us was not deception, but a depiction of America as it might be if we all tried to do our best to be good parents, good citizens, good friends and good neighbors. No one in the show was perfect, not even Sheriff Taylor. Nor did everyone try. There were bad guys and charlatans and rogues as well as losers and failures and deadbeats. But despite facing daily obstacles and challenges, a single father was able to make the world a slightly better place by striving day in and day out to do the right thing in his tiny town, even when he did not want to.
Andy Griffith did a lot of other magnificent work in his career, from his fantastic stand-up comedy to his theater and film acting to his Grammy-winning gospel singing. A good bit of that work reminds us — like “The Andy Griffith Show” did, by showing, not preaching — that the United States is a better place when we value community, civility, kindness and self-reliance. R.I.P.