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In the 1957 drama “A Face in the Crowd,” Griffith starred as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a local jailbird and amateur singer who becomes a philosopher on national television. As his influence rises, his drinking, womanizing and lust for power are hidden by his handlers.

Mr. Griffith plays him with thunderous vigor,” The New York Times wrote. The Washington Post said Griffith “seems to have one of those personalities that sets film blazing.”

Griffith said director Elia Kazan led him through his role, and it was all a bit overwhelming for someone with, as he put it, just “one little acting course in college.”

More recently, Griffith won a Grammy in 1997 for his album of gospel music “I Love to Tell the Story _ 25 Timeless Hymns.”

In 2007, he appeared in a critically acclaimed independent film, “Waitress,” playing Joe, the boss at the diner. The next year, he appeared in Brad Paisley’s awarding-winning music video “Waitin’ on a Woman.”

Paisley said Griffith was “an actor who never looked like he was acting, a moral compass who saved as many souls as most preachers and an entertainer who put smiles on more faces than almost anyone.”

Griffith also dappled in Democratic politics, appearing in 2008 in an Obama campaign video directed by Howard and featuring the former child star chatting with Griffith and other former TV colleagues. Two years later, he made a commercial praising the president’s health care legislation.

Griffith was born June 1, 1926, and as a child sang and played slide trombone in the band at Grace Moravian Church. He studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and for a time contemplated a career in the ministry. But he eventually got a job teaching high school music in Goldsboro.

He and his first wife, Barbara Edwards, had two children: Sam, who died in 1996, and Dixie. His second wife was Solica Cassuto. Both marriages ended in divorce. He married third wife Cindi Knight Griffith in 1983.

Griffith also suffered from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that can cause sudden paralysis. He suffered a heart attack and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2000.


Martha Waggoner can be reached at