Born on June 1, 1926 in Mount Airy, North Carolina, Andy Griffith's first career ambition was to be an opera singer. Later, he decided he wanted to become a Moravian preacher, and enrolled as a pre-divinity student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1944. While in college, he became involved in drama and musical theater, and graduated in 1949 with a degree in music. He taught high school music for three years before setting out with his new wife, Barbara Edwards, on a career as an entertainer.
Griffith and his wife moved to New York, where he made his television debut as a guest monologist on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1954. That same year, he won the role of Will Stockdale in the TV version of No Time for Sergeants. When the play was produced on Broadway in 1955 Griffith was nominated for a Tony Award for outstanding supporting actor. Griffith went on to reprise his role in the 1958 film version of No Time for Sergeants.
In 1960 Griffith earned another Tony nomination for best actor in a musical for Destry Rides Again. He made his feature film debut in 1957 in A Face in the Crowd. He was also a regular, with Don Knotts, on the NBC variety series, The Steve Allen Show, from 1959 to 1960.
Griffith's 1960 guest appearance as a small-town mayor on the sitcom Make Room for Daddy led CBS to give him his own sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show, in which he played the gentle, philosophical small-town Sheriff Andy Taylor. The show was a tremendous success, consistently ranking among the most popular sitcoms during the entirety of its eight-year run. Knotts co-starred from 1960 to 1965, as Taylor's high-strung deputy sheriff, Barney Fife. The young Ron Howard also co-starred, as the sheriff's red-haired son, Opie.
After The Andy Griffith Show went off the air in 1968, Griffith appeared in several feature films, including Hearts of the West (1975). For the most part, however, he concentrated on TV, and appeared in several short-lived attempts to recapture the success of The Andy Griffith Show
In 1972, Griffith formed a production company, Andy Griffith Enterprises. His company's projects included a TV movie, Winter Kills (1974), in which he starred. In 1981, Griffith received an Emmy nomination for his supporting role in another TV movie, Murder in Texas.
In 1983, Griffith was suddenly stricken with Guillen-Barre syndrome, a crippling muscular disease that left him partially paralyzed for three months. After six months of private rehabilitation, he made a full recovery and was able to return to acting. He made a triumphant return to TV stardom in 1986, as the title character in the courtroom drama series Matlock, which aired during prime time on NBC from 1986 to 1992 and on ABC from 1993 to 1995. He also served as an executive producer and an executive story supervisor for the show, and later reprised his role as Ben Matlock in a series of popular TV movies.
Meanwhile, fan allegiance to The Andy Griffith Show has continued through re-runs. In 1986, Griffith reunited with his co-stars, including Knotts and Howard, in Return to Mayberry, which became the highest-rated TV movie of the 1986 season. He also hosted The Andy Griffith Reunion Special in 1993, and served as executive producer for both programs.
Griffith's marriage to Barbara Edwards ended in divorce in 1972. He and his second wife, Solicia, divorced in 1981 after five years of marriage. In 1983, he married Cindi Knight, a former teacher and actress. The couple lived for many years on a 68-acre ranch in Dare County, North Carolina. Griffith and his first wife had two children: Dixie and Sam. Griffith died on July 3, 2012, at the age of 86, at his home in North Carolina.