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Andy Griffith Dead at Age 86

CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Andy Griffith, the beloved actor who entertained television audiences for over half a century, has died, ABC News has confirmed.  He turned 86 on June 1.

According to a statement from Dare County, NC Sheriff J.D. "Doug" Doughtie, "At approximately 7am on July 3, 2012, Andy Griffith passed away at his home on Roanoke Island in Dare County, NC. The family will release further information shortly. There is no further information that can be released by this office at this time."

Griffith's family made the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

“Andy Griffith passed away, after an illness, during the early morning on July 3 at his home in Manteo, N.C., with his wife Cindi at his side. He was 86 years old. Mr. Griffith has been laid to rest on his beloved Roanoke Island. His favorite causes were Outer Banks Conservationists and the Griffith Scholarship Fund at UNC-Chapel Hill.”

Griffith began his acting career in the 1950s with roles on Broadway and small, but notable parts in film and television.  However, it was a 1960 guest appearance on TV's The Danny Thomas Show that launched Griffith to stardom in the role of small-town North Carolina Sheriff Andy Taylor.  Griffith's turn as the affable, honest lawman of fictitious Mayberry -- said to be modeled after Griffth's own hometown of Mount Airy, NC -- made The Andy Griffith Show a hit.  It remains one of American television's most enduring sitcoms, long after it ended its run in 1968.

Griffith starred in several less-successful series over the next 18 years before finding success with another small-town character: rumpled, guitar-picking country lawyer Ben Matlock in Matlock. The show, set again in the South -- this time in Atlanta -- ran from 1986 to 1995.

Oscar-winning director/producer Ron Howard, who got his start playing Griffith's son Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, tweeted, "His pursuit of excellence and the joy he took in creating served generations & shaped my life I'm forever grateful RIP Andy." He earlier told, "His love of creating, the joy he took in it whether it was drama or comedy or his music, was inspiring to grow up around. ...He felt he was always working in service of an audience he really respected and cared about. He was a great influence on me. His passing is sad. But he lived a great rich life."

Griffith continued acting after Matlock ended, playing largely supporting roles in television and films. His most recent work, according to IMDB, was in 2009 in the independent film Play the Game. He also released numerous comedy and music albums over the years, with most of the latter featuring hymns and Americana music. He won a Grammy for his 1997 album, I Love to Tell the Story -- 25 Timeless Hymns.

In 2005, President George W. Bush presented Griffith with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio