‘The Andy Griffith Show’: This Beloved Cast Member Suffered a Stroke But Andy Griffith Insisted He Stay on the Series

During The Andy Griffith Show‘s eight-year run, one of the show’s most popular characters experienced a stroke.

While this could mean the end of a career in most other cases, for the actor portraying one of Mayberry’s favorite residents, it was a moment in which his TV family rallied around him.

Jim Nabors, Andy Griffith, and Don Knotts
Jim Nabors, Andy Griffith, and Don Knotts | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Floyd the barber was 1 of the show’s most beloved characters

Howard McNear, right, with Andy Griffith
Howard McNear, right, with Andy Griffith | CBS via Getty Images

Next to Aunt Bee and Opie, the most loved character on the series had to be the town’s barber and dedicated gossip, Floyd the barber. His cut shop was where the local men gathered for a trim and some serious gab.

In his 1981 book The Andy Griffith Show, author Richard Kelly explained how Floyd actor Howard McNear arrived in Mayberry.

“Howard McNear was brought into the show during its first year and stayed with it until his death in 1967,” Kelly wrote. “His portrayal of Floyd the barber was unquestionably one of the finest comic characterizations in television.”

Andy Griffith told the book’s author that McNear “was a nervous man and he became that man, Floyd.”

After Howard McNear’s stroke, Andy Griffith wanted him back on the show

Howard McNear, left, with George Lindsey in 1966
Howard McNear, left, with George Lindsey in 1966 | CBS via Getty Images

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The actor suffered a stroke in 1963 that left him nearly paralyzed on the left side of his body. As Griffith said in his account, McNear “had a stroke and was bad off for a long time. He was out of our show for about a year and three-quarters.”

On any other series perhaps, an event as catastrophic as a stroke would mean guaranteed retirement. And it nearly did so for McNear. However, Andy Griffith wouldn’t hear of it.

“We did a lot of soft shows [after McNear’s stroke], that is, those that were not hard on comedy – stories about the boy or the aunt. But we needed comedy scenes to break up things.”

They wanted McNear.

Griffith contacted McNear’s wife, who agreed it would be good for her husband to get back into circulation. Because McNear was limited to one side of his body, he was written into scenes, as Griffith said, “sitting or we built him a stand that supported him. He could then stand behind the barber chair and use one hand. His mind was not affected at all.”

Howard McNear’s painful last scene

After his 1963 stroke, McNear returned to work on The Andy Griffith Show in 1965. Two years later, however, he had another stroke that ended his life.

“He was with us about two years after that before he died,” Griffith recalled to Kelly. “Finally poor Howard died. I’m sorry because there was never anyone like him. Kind, kind man.”

Howard McNear, left, with Andy Griffith in a scene from 'The Andy Griffith Show'
Howard McNear, left, with Andy Griffith in a scene from ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ | CBS via Getty Images

Jack Dodson who played Howard Sprague on the show, remembered the scene that would be McNear’s last. It was difficult for Dodson to witness.

“Sadly, it was during the playing of a scene with Howard that we realized he couldn’t go on anymore…,” Dodson said. “He couldn’t remember [his lines]. He went over and over it, frustrated with himself. Seeing his despair and anxiety was the most painful experience that I’ve ever had. Ever. And then he didn’t come back after that.”

Much of the cast attended McNear’s funeral, which show producer Richard Linke described as “the only funeral I’ve ever been to where the laughs exceeded the tears…Oh, he was a nice man.”