Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Matlock Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

The legal drama series "Matlock" added another hit to star Andy Griffith's celebrated TV career. The actor, who rose to fame in the 1960s as the star of the rural comedy "The Andy Griffith Show," had appeared in numerous TV movies in the 1970s and 1980s, even picking up an Emmy nomination as a father pursuing his daughter's killer in for the 1981 thriller "Murder in Texas." 

However, he was unable to lock down a successful weekly series until "Matlock" debuted on NBC in 1986. The series played to Griffith's strengths, as his Ben Matlock was folksy and charming, much like Sheriff Andy Taylor from "The Andy Griffith Show," but also an experienced lawyer with a strong sense of moral duty. Matlock was the kind of lawyer you wanted in your corner when you were in trouble, and for nine seasons, audiences happily tuned in to watch him free dozens of guest stars from dire straits (or lock them up behind bars).

Like any long-running series, "Matlock" featured a sizable and diverse cast of regular, recurring, and visiting players from films and television. Many of them remain active on screen today, though given that "Matlock" left the airwaves in 1995, many have retired or died. Following is a list of the actors in the latter category, many of whom you might not know passed away. Be warned, however, as spoilers may follow.

Andy Griffith returned to TV stardom with Matlock

"Matlock" came to Andy Griffith after the actor had spent several years trying to find another series that would match the success of his breakout program, "The Andy Griffith Show." Griffith -– who had been a popular comedy performer, Broadway star, and film actor prior to his stint as Andy Taylor- – appeared in five series prior to "Matlock's" debut in 1986. The legal drama was an immediate success and ran for nine seasons on both NBC and ABC.

Despite the popularity of both shows, Griffith received only a People's Choice Award for "Matlock" in 1986. His sole Emmy nomination came for 1981's "Murder in Texas," one of several suspenseful TV movies that showcased his dramatic talents in the 1970s and 1980s. "Matlock" took up much of Griffith's screen time during the 1980s and '90s, but he continued to work steadily in the ensuing years. He reprised Matlock for two appearances on "Diagnosis: Murder," guested on "Dawson's Creek," and gave a warm turn as a diner owner in Adrienne Shelley's indie "Waitress."

Griffith also enjoyed a long career after "Matlock" as a recording artist. He issued numerous country, gospel, and folk albums between 1993 and 2003, winning a Grammy in 1997 for Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album. Griffith, whose many career laurels included the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, died from a heart attack at the age of 88 at his home in North Carolina on July 3, 2012.

Matlock reteamed Don Knotts with Andy Griffith

The career arcs of Andy Griffith and comic character actor Don Knotts intersected repeatedly throughout their long TV and film careers. Knotts first appeared opposite Griffith in the 1957 Broadway comedy "No Time for Sergeants" and re-teamed with him for the 1958 feature version. When Griffith began his TV run in the celebrated sitcom "The Andy Griffith Show," Knotts was tapped to play Sheriff Andy Taylor's deputy, Barney Fife, and won five Emmy Awards for the role.

The pair reunited for the made-for-TV movie "Return to Mayberry," before Knotts enjoyed a 17-episode run on "Matlock" as Ben's likable meddler of a neighbor, Les Calhoun. Knotts' tenure on the series lasted from Season 3 until Season 6, and the pair would appear together one final time for "The Andy Griffith Show Reunion: Back to Mayberry" in 2003.

Knotts' acting career extended beyond the borders of Mayberry as he enjoyed leading man status for several comedies in the 1960s, including "The Reluctant Astronaut" and "The Incredible Mr. Limpet." In 1979, he stepped into the landlord role on "Three's Company," playing the fashion-challenged Ralph Furley. Between these efforts was a run in Disney comedies like "The Apple Dumpling Gang," and after "Matlock," Knotts provided voices for "Garfield and Friends," "Chicken Little," and other animated projects.

Knotts died on February 24, 2006, at the age of 81. He had been undergoing treatment for lung cancer and died of pulmonary and respiratory complications from pneumonia.

David Froman's Lt. Brooks lent Matlock a hand

Lieutenant Bob Brooks was Ben Matlock's ally at the Atlanta Police Department. A regular and friendly face on the series from Season 3 to Season 6, Brooks assisted with cases until the Season 6 two-parter "The Assassination." The lieutenant was absent from the series for the next two seasons until Season 9's "The Dare," when he was murdered by wealthy philanthropist Malcolm Engle, played by Terry O'Quinn. Naturally, Matlock took on the case and unraveled the complicated plot to murder Brooks with his signature legal skills.

David Froman played Bob Brooks throughout the character's entire run on "Matlock." A graduate of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College (NEO), he taught speech and theater there before pursuing an acting career. Steady work on series like "The Edge of Night," which cast him as a malevolent butler, led to more substantive roles on shows like "Star Trek: The Next Generation," for which he played a Klingon commander on the episode "The Heart of Glory."

"Matlock" marked the end of Froman's screen career. As noted by the Tulsa World, he returned to teaching at NEO and remained part of the school's faculty until 2007. Froman died of cancer at the age of 71 on February 8, 2010.

Twin Peaks alum Warren Frost was Matlock's pal, Billy

Character actor Warren Frost began his acting career in films and on television in the late 1950s but didn't enjoy widespread fame until the 1990s, thanks to recurring roles on a slew of popular television series like "Seinfeld" and "Twin Peaks." Between these efforts, Frost also played Billy Lewis, a friend of Ben Matlock and father to his law partner, Cliff Lewis, in Seasons 6 through 9.

Frost first appeared on live television dramas in the late 1950s and later served as an educator and theater director in Minnesota. A role on the daytime drama "As the World Turns" in the 1980s preceded his career reviving- turn as small-town physician Doc Hayward on "Twin Peaks," which was co-created by his son, Mark Frost. He later played the father of George Costanza's fiancée, Susan, on "Seinfeld" and reprised Doc Hayward in both "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me" and the 2017 revival of the series.

When Frost retired from acting in 2000, he returned to his hometown of Middlebury, Vermont. He died there after a long illness at the age of 91 on February 17, 2017.

Lucille Meredith presided over many Matlock episodes

Presiding over 14 cases between Seasons 1 and 4 of "Matlock" was Lucille Meredith's Judge Irene Sawyer, who made her debut in the Season 1 two-parter "The Don," which also featured Ron Karabatsos. Sawyer also weighed the evidence on another two-parter, Season 3's "The Thief" (again with Karabatsos), before making her final "Matlock" appearance on Season 4's "The Witness."

Born in Ohio in 1916, Meredith didn't begin her screen acting career until the 1960s. She worked steadily in minor and guest roles on various series throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including "Barney Miller" and "Charlie's Angels." She also appeared in occasional features, including John Carpenter's "They Live" and "Airport 1975." Her run on "Matlock" was her penultimate acting job as Meredith landed two appearances on "Night Court" in 1991 and 1992 before appearing to retire. Married to longtime film and TV writer and producer Roland Kibbee –- who co-directed his wife in the 1974 thriller "The Midnight Man" –- Meredith died on May 1, 2004, in Los Angeles, California.

Aneta Corsaut went from Sheriff Taylor's fiancée to Matlock judge

Fans of Andy Griffith noted a number of familiar faces passing through "Matlock" as both guest stars and recurring performers throughout its network run. Among them was Aneta Corsaut, who played schoolteacher Helen Crump,  Sheriff Andy Taylor's steady girlfriend and eventual wife on "The Andy Griffith Show" Decades later, Corsaut would make seven appearances on "Matlock." 

The first two were minor roles in episodes from Season 2 and Season 5. However, in Season 6 Corsaut settled into her recurring role as Judge Cynthia Justin, which she would play in five episodes. Her first appearance was in Season 6's "The Marriage Counselor," in which she presided over a case involving the murder of a philandering marriage counselor, played by Bryan Cranston. Her final appearance came with the two-parter "The Evening News" at the end of Season 6.

Corsaut made her film debut opposite Steve McQueen in the sci-fi cult favorite "The Blob" but found steadier work on television. She enjoyed recurring roles on several popular series, including "The Blue Knight," "Adam-12," and the 1980s sitcom "House Calls." Corsaut capped her acting career with her "Matlock" run; she died of cancer on November 6, 1995, at the age of 62.

Ron Karabatsos knew about law and order

Beefy character actor Ron Karabatsos was a familiar face to moviegoers and TV viewers for three decades. The former New Jersey police detective logged numerous appearances on the small screen, including a pair of two-part "Matlock" episodes in Season 1's "The Don," which also helped launch the CBS series "Jake and the Fatman," and Season 3's "The Thief." He later returned for a minor role in Season 6's "Mr. Awesome."

As noted by the Highland Community News, Karabatos's film career began in 1981 when director Sidney Lumet invited him to audition for a role in his police drama "Prince of the City." Character roles in films like "Flashdance" and "The Cotton Club" alongside parts on series like "Hill Street Blues" soon followed. He was also a series regular on the syndicated revamp of the '80s sitcom "We Got It Made" from 1987 to 1988.

Karabatos's appearances on "Matlock" were just a handful of many screen roles he landed during the '80s, '90s, and 2000s. He appeared as the ill-fated Momo in "Get Shorty" played opposite Burt Reynolds in "The Crew," and logged guest roles on "Mad About You," "The Jamie Foxx Show," and "Karen Sisco" before making his final screen appearance in 2004's "Surviving Christmas." Eight years later, the 78-year-old Karabatsos died in Riverside County, California, on April 17, 2012.

Tiny Lester lived large on three Matlock episodes

Bringing some muscle to three episodes of "Matlock" was the imposing character actor and occasional wrestler Tom "Tiny" Lister, Jr. He made his first appearance as a bouncer who brawls with private eye Tyler Hudson (Kene Holliday) in Season 1's "The Seduction," and returned in Season 4 for the two-parter "The Prisoner," playing an inmate who serves as Matlock's bodyguard when the lawyer represents a prison guard tried by a kangaroo court of inmates during a prison riot.

The 6'7" Lister was a college athlete before trying his hand at acting. Minor roles as tough guys and hard cases in films like "Beverly Hills Cop 2" preceded his first bid for stardom in the World Wrestling Federation. Lister played Zeus, a heel opposite Hulk Hogan in the 1989 film "No Holds Barred," and the pair continued their feud off-screen at SummerSlam and the Survivor Series in '89 and 1990.

Lister's acting career earned another boost when he was cast as the neighborhood bully Deebo in 1995's "Friday." The popularity of the film and its sequels led to regular work on television and prominent roles in major features like "The Fifth Element" (which cast him as the Galactic President), "The Dark Knight," and Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown." Lister went on to amass more than 200 film and television credits –- so many, in fact, that after his death from cardiovascular disease on December 11, 2020, he still had a number of film projects waiting for release.

David Carradine played tough and tragic on Matlock

Hard-working cult actor David Carradine logged three appearances on "Matlock" between its second and fourth season. He starred as a down-on-his-luck country singer facing hit-and-run murder charges in Season 2's "The Country Boy" and played a convict who serves as a prosecuting attorney in a kangaroo court set up by rioting prisoners in the Season 4 two-parter "The Prisoner."

Carradine was part of an acting family that included his father, John Carradine, brothers Keith and Robert, half-brother Michael Bowen, daughter Calista, and nieces Martha Plimpton, Ever Carradine, and Sorel Carradine. David's long career in films and television included major studio releases, numerous independent features, and direct-to-video oddities. He earned an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe for the martial arts Western series "Kung Fu," and a second Golden Globe as folk singer Woody Guthrie in "Bound for Glory."

Carradine also appeared in films for Martin Scorsese and Ingmar Bergman but spent much of his later career in cult films, like Larry Cohen's "Q" and the Roger Corman-produced "Death Race 2000," or low-budget titles. Quentin Tarantino revived his career and earned him a fourth Golden Globe nod by casting him as the super-assassin Bill in both volumes of his "Kill Bill" saga.

On June 3, 2009, the 72-year-old Carradine was found dead in his hotel room in Thailand, where he was working on a film. The cause of death was attributed to accidental asphyxiation.

Indie favorite Seymour Cassel turned up in two Matlock episodes

A streetwise and soulful presence in independent features and on television for decades, Seymour Cassel's long list of credits included two episodes of "Matlock." The Oscar nominee had a minor role in the Season 2 two-parter "The Investigation," but enjoyed a more substantive role as a used car salesman in the Season 3 opener, "The Lemon," which also introduced Don Knotts' character, Les Carlson.

Though episodic TV composed a section of Cassel's long list of screen credits — which included "The Twilight Zone," "Batman," and "The Heist" — he was best known for collaborations with some of the leading figures in independent film. He enjoyed a long creative relationship with director John Cassavetes, who helped guide Cassel to his best supporting actor Oscar nomination for 1968's "Faces." 

He later appeared in Steve Buscemi's "Trees Lounge" and "Lonesome Jim," and was a member of Wes Anderson's company of actors in "Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums," and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou." He also appeared in numerous studio films, including Warren Beatty's "Dick Tracy," "Honeymoon in Vegas," and "61*." Cassel died of complications from Alzheimer's disease at the age of 84 on April 7, 2019.

Grease and Taxi star Jeff Conaway turned up twice on Matlock

Golden Globe nominee Jeff Conaway bookended "Matlock" by appearing in one of its first episodes -– Season 1's "The Affair" — and one of its last, Season 8's surreal "Matlock's Bad, Bad, Bad Dream." The latter of the two episodes offers the "Taxi" and "Grease" star a choice role. Like all the actors in the episode –- a dream spawned when Matlock takes allergy medication -– he plays two characters: a Depression Era jazz musician who winds up dead and a waiter at a nightclub.

Conaway began his career on the stage, starring in the original Broadway run of "Grease." He was later cast in the 1978 film version, which led to his starring role as Bobby Wheeler on "Taxi." However, Conaway's addiction to drugs and alcohol resulted in his departure from the series in Season 3. He gained sobriety in the 1980s and found steady work on television, including a five-year run on "Babylon 5." However, his dependency issues again upended his career in the 2000s, and he spent much of the decade contending with them, even appearing on the reality series "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew."

On May 11, 2011, Conaway was found unconscious and placed into a medically induced coma due to various health issues, including pneumonia and coronary artery disease. He was removed from life support on May 26, 2011, and died a day later at the age of 60, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Sandlot star Art LaFleur made the Matlock roster twice

Granite-faced character actor Art LaFleur appeared in dozens of television shows from the late 1970s to the 2011s, including two episodes of "Matlock." He first turned up in Season 6's "The Outcast," in which Matlock is roused from career doldrums to investigate a boy's death in a small but decidedly suspicious town. LaFleur later returned for Season 8's "The Capital Offense" as a police detective who asks Matlock to dig deeper into the circumstances that sent a con man to death row.

As he revealed in an interview with Media Mikes, LaFleur worked as a salesman before launching a career as an actor in the late 1970s. Like many character actors, he amassed a sizable list of credits throughout his career, ranging from guest appearances on shows ranging from "ER" to "Key and Peele" and numerous feature films. Two of his best-known big-screen roles were as legendary baseball players. He was White Sox first baseman Chick Gandil in "Field of Dreams," and later a sage Babe Ruth in "The Sandlot."

LaFleur, who had atypical Parkinson's, died from the disease at age 78 on November 17, 2021.

Character actor Pat Hingle played Santa for Matlock

A welcome presence for film and television audiences for more than five decades, Pat Hingle lent his talents to one of the earliest "Matlock" episodes in Season 1's "Santa Claus," which cast him as a former bank robber turned street Santa. When his heartless landlord is murdered, suspicion naturally falls in Hingle, prompting Matlock to take up his case and prove him innocent.

Hingle, a North Carolina native, enjoyed a richly diverse career in features and on television and the stage beginning in 1950 when he made his debut in an uncredited role in "On the Waterfront." His small-screen appearances included the original "Twilight Zone," as Col. Tom Parker in John Carpenter's "Elvis," and in episodes of "M*A*S*H," the original "Magnum P.I.," and "Amazing Stories."

Hingle's feature credits included a slew of appearances opposite Clint Eastwood in films like "Hang 'Em High," and "Sudden Impact," and four turns as Commissioner Jim Gordon in the pre-"Dark Knight" "Batman" features, beginning with Tim Burton's 1989 film. Roles as a terrifying gangster in Stephen Frears' "The Grifters," as the folksy owner of Dennit Racing in "Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," and as a flinty general opposite the Muppets in "Muppets in Space" underscored Hingle's ability to work in any genre.

Hingle died at the age of 84 of myelodysplasia on January 3, 2009.

TV legend Sheldon Leonard turned up for a Matlock cameo

Actor, producer, and director Sheldon Leonard is an important figure in Andy Griffith's career arc. He introduced Griffith's character, Andy Taylor, in a 1960 episode of "The Danny Thomas Show," and with Thomas, served as executive producer of the Emmy-winning series. He later re-teamed with Griffith in the "Matlock" Season 2 episode "The Gambler" to play the minor role of a casino tipster.

Leonard began his career as an actor in the late 1930s. His pronounced New York accent made him ideal for tough guys and streetwise types in films like "It's a Wonderful Life," where he appears as Nick the bartender, and "Guys and Dolls." He moved into producing for television in the 1950s and oversaw such enduring series as "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "I Spy," and "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." while also serving as a director on many episodes of those programs.

Leonard, who won three Emmys (two for directing and one for producing) and a lifetime achievement award from the Directors Guild of America, died shortly before his 90th birthday on January 11, 1997.