Andy Griffith and Politics: Actor Helped Democrats

VIDEO: President Bush honors Andy Griffith with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Image credit: Roger L. Wollenberg/UPI/Newscom

Television icon Andy Griffith, the star of the popular "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Matlock," died this morning at 86, leaving a legacy of dedicated, and occasionally controversial, political activism.

Griffith had history of supporting Democratic causes and candidates, most recently in 2010, when he starred in a $700,000 ad campaign selling President Obama's contentious health care reform law and changes in Medicare.

Griffith's public political support for Obama reached back to the 2008 campaign, when he appeared in a tongue-in-cheek online video that reenacted a scene from "The Andy Griffith Show."

"Well Opie, people are funny," Griffith says in the video. "Sometimes change scares 'em. They'd rather keep doing the same old thing that keeps messing them up then change to the thing that can help 'em."

Griffith was a North Carolina native and long time resident, and on multiple occasions campaigned for Democratic gubernatorial candidates, including for Governors Mike Easley and Bev Perdue.

Although Griffith never did seek public office, a Wisconsin man changed his name to Andy Griffith and ran for sheriff in 2006, in an ode to Griffith's character Sheriff Andy Taylor of the fictional Mayberry, N.C.

However, for the real Andy Griffith, mimicry wasn't the greatest form of flattery, and he sued the Wisconsin man for violating trademark, copyright and privacy laws. A federal judge sided in favor of the impostor, saying his actions were a form of political speech protected by the First Amendment.

Despite Griffith's political leanings, President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.

"TV shows come and go, but there's only one Andy Griffith," President Bush said. "And we thank him for being such a friendly and beloved presence in our American life."

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