Andy Griffith, the television icon Americans adored for his role as the town sheriff in the 1960s sitcom "The Andy Griffith Show" and later as a stern defense attorney in the drama "Matlock," died Tuesday. He was 86.
Griffith passed away at his home in Dare County, N.C., around 7 a.m., according to close friend and former University of North Carolina President Bill Friday. Local officials also confirmed an ambulance was called to the house around that time.
A family statement said the actor died with his wife Cindi at his side and he's already "been laid to rest on his beloved Roanoke Island."
Actress Nancy Stafford, who co-starred with Griffith on the TV series "Matlock" spoke by phone to CBN News about her friend, what he was like to work with, his impact on American culture, and his deep faith. Click play to listen.
"Andy was a person of incredibly strong Christian faith and was prepared for the day he would be called Home to his Lord," Mrs. Griffith said in a statement.
"He is the love of my life, my constant companion, my partner, and my best friend. I cannot imagine life without Andy, but I take comfort and strength in God's grace and in the knowledge that Andy is at peace and with God," she added.
A North Carolina native, Andy Griffith grew up in church and first aspired to be an opera singer.
He served as choir director at First Baptist Church of Goldsboro and pursued pre-ministerial studies at UNC Chapel Hill, but later changed his major and decided to go into acting.
Although best known for his television career, he also earned Tony nominations for two Broadway performances.
After a role in the movie "A Face in the Crowd," Griffith made his mark on America's heart with the self-titled comedy sitcom, "The Andy Griffith Show."
The series was an instant hit and ran for eight seasons. But its success never earned him a nomination.
"His pursuit of excellence and the joy he took in creating served generations & shaped my life," actor and director Ron Howard, who played Griffith's son Opie Taylor on "The Andy Griffith Show," said Tuesday on Twitter.
In 1986, Griffith went from friendly sheriff to take-no-mess lawyer in the legal drama "Matlock."
Prior to that, he was diagnosed with Guillen-Barre syndrome, a muscular disease that left him partially paralyzed for months.
"I firmly believe that in every situation, no matter how difficult, God extends grace greater than the hardship, and strength and peace of mind that can lead us to a place higher than where we were before," Griffith said in a 1996 "Guideposts" interview.
Griffith took on several other smaller TV roles throughout his career. His performance in the mini-series "Murder in Texas" earned him his only Emmy nomination.
At what he called the "ripe age" of 69, Griffith revisited his dream of singing and recorded gospel songs for "I Love To Tell The Story - 25 Favorite Hymns."
"I have had 44 good years so far as an actor and entertainer in show business ... and now I get the opportunity to record ... as a singer for heaven's sake," he once said of the opportunity.
Griffith was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2005.
Listen to Andy Griffith singing "Jesus I Come" below.