Andy Griffith Was Devastated By the 1996 Death of His Only Son

Andy Griffith in a scene from 'The Andy Griffith Show'
Andy Griffith in a scene from ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ | CBS via Getty Images

Television icon Andy Griffith was father to two children and kept them out of the limelight as a star on The Andy Griffith Show and in the years after.

In 1996, his son Sam’s life ended in a lonely and tragic death that shattered Griffith.

Andy Griffith’s two children were adopted during his 1st marriage

Griffith was married to his wife Barbara Edwards, a fellow actor, from 1949 to 1972.

During their marriage, Griffith and his wife discovered they were unable to have children. They decided to adopt instead and brought home two infants, a boy and a girl, a year apart from each other.

Andy Griffith, right, and his first wife Barbara in 1965
Andy Griffith, right, and his first wife Barbara in 1965 | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“In fall 1958, the Griffiths adopted a son, unable to conceive their own,” wrote Daniel de Visé in his 2015 book Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show.

Griffith proudly named his new son after himself.

“Andrew Samuel Griffith Jr. had been born the previous December,” he wrote. “The following year, Andy and Barbara would adopt a daughter, Dixie, to complete the family.”

In their teens, the Griffith children took part in a North Carolina summer camp, The Lost Colony, that their parents had taken part in during their own youth. Singing in a choir and carrying banners, they were paid volunteers, made many friends, and reportedly having a wonderful time.

His son developed an addiction to alcohol

Andy Griffith in 1974
Andy Griffith in 1974 | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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Although Griffith’s son’s first name was Andrew like his father, he went by the name Sam. According to de Visé, when Barbara and Andy divorced in 1972, Barbara was granted custody of their daughter Dixie and Andy of their son Sam, who was 14 at the time.

Sam “idolized his famous father but chafed at the pressure that came with being his son,” de Visé wrote.

Andy’s son began to drink more and more steadily. His cousin Mike King told the author, “That’s why he drank; it had to be a rough, contentious relationship, Andy being the dominant guy that he was.”

Eventually, Andy stopped contact with his son, saying that he had “emotionally disinherited” him.

Things only got worse for Sam in 1992 when he was placed on probation for beating his pregnant wife just weeks after they had wed.

Sam Griffith died in 1996

Andy Griffith and Don Knotts
Andy Griffith and Don Knotts | Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

After years of constant and excessive drinking, Sam’s body could no longer handle his over-consumption of alcohol and he died in January 1996 at age 37, “slumped over a desk in his North Hollywood home.”

Described in his obituary as an unemployed developer, Sam “had drunk himself to death,” de Visé said.

The younger Griffith’s death devastated his father. Andy was consoled by his old friend and show partner, Don Knotts.

“When Don called to express condolences, all Andy could say was ‘It’s very, very, very painful.’ Andy didn’t speak of Sam much after that,” de Visé said. “But he once confessed to Don, ‘I don’t know how good a father I was.'”