One of the first scenes you see as the opening credits roll for The Andy Griffith Show is a shot of Sheriff Andy Taylor (played by Andy Griffith) walking along the road with his young son Opie Taylor (Ron Howard), fishing rods casually slung over their backs as they head out for an afternoon of adventure. It encapsulates much of what drew fans to the hit sitcom, which aired from 1960 to 1968.
Over the years since the show concluded, many audience members wondered whether the father-son duo was as friendly and tight-knit off camera as they were on set, especially with Griffith’s history of anger issues and alcoholism allegations. Howard went on the record to tell you what his relationship with Griffith was actually like when the cameras weren’t recording.
‘The Andy Griffith Show’ invited audiences to a nostalgic, small-town world
The plot was simple: What would happen when you throw a level-headed law enforcement officer into the daily dramas of small-town North Carolina life? Each episode typically involved Sheriff Taylor facing a dilemma, whether he’s chasing off criminal moonshiners or trying to teach his son Opie the lessons of life.
Sheriff Taylor is joined by his comical deputy Barney Fife (Don Knots), his housekeeper and live-in relative Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier), and a host of county mayors, business owners, school teachers and other colorful characters.
In an interview done back in the ’90s, Griffith told The Today Show that his hope and his goal was to create a sense of safe nostalgia. “It had a feeling of the ’30s,” Griffith said, adding that he wanted to capture the essence of “a time gone by.”
Many iconic episodes centered on Sheriff Taylor and his son Opie Taylor
Sheriff Taylor was a widower (Opie’s mother is only mentioned once in the entire show, in 1962’s episode “Wedding Bells for Aunt Bee”), and thus many of the storylines revolved around his close-knit bond with his son.
Iconic storylines, like when Opie finds money and his dad wants to teach him about honesty, dial in on this father-son dynamic.
A lot of this on-screen connection was due, in part, to Howard’s own bond with his real-life dad. Reports say that the senior Howard coached Griffith on how to make the father-son relationship feel more organic and authentic, and encouraged Griffith to create a set of characters who respect each other, love each other, and are there for each other.
On screen, the two are inseparable and always encouraging each other. But were they that close in real life, or was it all just for the camera?
Howard and Griffith had a real-life connection and friendship
Andy Griffith passed away in 2012 at the age of 86. When he passed, celebrities around the world poured out their condolences, and Howard was one of them.
“[Andy Griffith’s] pursuit of excellence and the joy he took in creating served generations & shaped my life,” Howard posted on Twitter. “I’m forever grateful.”
While the show was filled with warm scenes and lots of nostalgia, Griffith himself led a life that wasn’t always as idyllic as what was featured on his sitcom. For instance, he was known to have anger issues, struggled through numerous relationships, and it’s alleged he sometimes drank a little too much alcohol. And while there might have been a bit of a disparity between the idealism of The Andy Griffith Show and the real-life Griffith, it turns out that the relationship between Howard and Griffith was authentic, real and very close.
Howard has repeatedly posted on Twitter about how he looks back at growing up on Griffith’s TV set with great fondness, and also looked up to Griffith.
And in an interview with Closer Weekly, he said that Andy taught him important lessons that “I’ve carried with me forever.”
Griffith himself told Closer that although Howard didn’t think of him as a father figure, he felt they were true friends. And Griffith’s daughter, Dixie Griffith, added: “[Andy Griffith] loved [Ron Howard] very, very much. They had a deep and abiding respect for each other, and they remained friends till the end.”