JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: the death of a beloved actor.
Andy Griffith passed away today, after a career that spanned half-a-century.
Ray Suarez has our report.
RAY SUAREZ: The theme song was as familiar as its namesake. Andy Griffith gained lasting stardom on "The Andy Griffith Show," set in the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina.
For eight years, starting in 1960, he played a widowed sheriff raising a son, Opie, played by Ron Howard.
ANDY GRIFFITH, Actor: You see, when you give something -- in this instance, cleaning the garage -- and you get something in return, like a quarter, well, that's the greatest feeling in the world. You do feel good after working, don't you?
RON HOWARD, Actor: Uh-huh. Good and tired.
RAY SUAREZ: The supporting cast also featured the likes of Frances Bavier as Aunt Bee and Howard McNear as Floyd Barber and, most famously, Sheriff Andy's deputy, Barney Fife, played by Don Knotts.
DON KNOTTS, Actor: Why is the accident here? Why are we stopping at Mrs. Kelsey's?
ANDY GRIFFITH: Ms. Kelsey had to go to Mount Pilot.
DON KNOTTS: Oh, we're going to check the locks, huh?
ANDY GRIFFITH: No. We're going to take in her laundry.
JEFFREY BROWN: Two decades later, in 1986, Griffith returned to weekly television in "Matlock." He played a cagey Southern lawyer for nine years.
ANDY GRIFFITH: And he had no idea. He didn't think for a minute that you would kill him first.
RAY SUAREZ: Griffith got his big break in the 1950s after he recorded a comedic monologue, "What It Was, Was Football."
ANDY GRIFFITH: It was that both bunches full of them men wanted this funny-looking little pumpkin to play with.
RAY SUAREZ: That success led to appearances on national television variety shows, and then to a role as a hillbilly recruit in "No Time for Sergeants" in 1955, first on Broadway, garnering a Tony Award nomination, and later on the big screen.
ANDY GRIFFITH: Hey, listen, at home, we have got a little radio on the porch. Whenever it won't walk, pa just spits on the back of it and wonks it a bit and it works every time. There you are. She's a working! She's a working! Hey, hey!
MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, this is Andy Griffith.
RAY SUAREZ: Griffith followed that with a dramatic turn in "A Face in the Crowd" in 1957. He played Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, an Arkansas-drifter-turned-singing-idol whose television success leads to a lust for power.
ANDY GRIFFITH: I'm not just an entertainer. I'm an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force, a force.
ACTOR: Oh, if they ever heard the way that psycho really talks.
RAY SUAREZ: In his later years, Griffith recorded a gospel album and won a Grammy Award in 1997. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. And he continued acting, appearing in the independent film "Waitress" in 2007.
KERI RUSSELL, Actress: How you doing today, Joe?
ANDY GRIFFITH: Same as yesterday, Jenna. How are you?
RAY SUAREZ: When asked if he was like his cranky character in that film, Griffith said: "I'm not really wise, but I can be cranky, but I'm a lot like Andy Taylor, too. And I'm some 'Lonesome' Rhodes."
Andy Griffith died today at his home on the North Carolina coast. He was 86.