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The Only Actors Still Alive From The Cast Of The Andy Griffith Show

Although today's youngest generations are more likely familiar with "The Andy Griffith Show" from repeating airings on networks like TVLand, older audiences might remember that the series originally ran from 1960 to 1968 on CBS. Throughout its time on the network and for many decades after, the series proved a popular and enduring piece of American pop culture. In fact, according to Classic TV Hits, the show never fell below seventh place in its year-to-year Nielsen ratings and finished No. 1 in its last two seasons.

Griffith starred in the series as Andy Taylor, Sheriff of the fictional hamlet of Mayberry, North Carolina. In a 1965 interview with the New York Times, Griffith credited the show's longevity to the positive vibes it put out. "I think it is because we — everyone on the show — have a real sense of community, of kindness toward one another," he said. "The basic rule by which we live comes through on the program, kindness comes through."

As would be expected of a show of that vintage, almost all of the actors who appeared in the series have moved on to that great green room in the sky, but many of the children and one notable adult are still with us. Among the departed are screen legends Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, Frances Bavier, Jim Nabors, and George Lindsey, but who is still alive from the cast of "The Andy Griffith Show?"

Elinor Donahue (Ellie Walker)

Elinor Donahue played Mayberry pharmacist Ellie Walker, Andy's first of many love interests throughout the series. She appeared in 11 episodes in Season 1 before asking to be let out of her three-year contract. She later told Closer Weekly that moving from a teenage role in "Father Knows Best" directly to an adult one in "The Andy Griffith Show" was a bit disorienting. "I felt like a bird out of a nest," she said. "I didn't feel like I had all my feathers yet and I didn't feel capable ... I was just not a happy camper and there was no point in my trying to continue with it." 

In 2012, This Was Television writer Sabienna Bowman noted that Donahue's progressive-minded character may have also been a poor fit for the fictional idyllic town. "She was a constant reminder of the turbulent changing world beyond Mayberry, which contradicted The Andy Griffith Show's mission statement to provide viewers with an escape from the messy political and social climate of the time," she wrote. 

Notably, Donahue said Andy Griffith himself later confessed partial fault for her quick exit from the show. "He said they just didn't know how to write for me," Donahue said. "That could have been part of it. I didn't think there was any real chemistry there." She would later go on to appear in such legendary TV series as "The Odd Couple," "Fantasy Island," and "The Love Boat," and even guest starred on one episode in the final season of "Happy Days," although it was after Ron Howard had left the show.

Ron Howard (Opie Taylor)

Without a doubt, the brightest and most recognizable remaining star of "The Andy Griffith Show" is Ron Howard, who played Andy's son Opie. Howard was born into an acting family in Duncan, Oklahoma in 1954 and made his film debut at just 18 months old in "Frontier Woman." American TV audiences learned life lessons through Opie's eyes as he grew from a freckle-faced lad of six into a teenager; he was a month past his 14th birthday when the series finale aired.

Howard would go on to star as Steve in 1973's "American Graffiti." Of course, he's also well known for his role as earnest Milwaukeean Richie Cunningham in "Happy Days," a series in which he starred from 1974 to 1984. In the decades since, Howard has most prominently left his mark on Hollywood as a director and producer. The 33 films he has directed have grossed more than $2 billion domestically, placing him among the highest-grossing directors of all time.

Howard's work behind the camera spans a multitude of genres: comedy ("Splash," "Arrested Development"), action ("Backdraft," "Rush"), drama ("Parenthood," "Far and Away"), science fiction ("Cocoon," "Solo: A Star Wars Story"), and docudrama ("Apollo 13," "Frost/Nixon"). "A Beautiful Mind" earned him Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture in 2001, and he also has two Emmys on his mantle: 2003's Best Comedy Series award for "Arrested Development" and 1998's "Outstanding Miniseries" trophy for "From the Earth to the Moon."

He remains busy at age 68, with 21 ongoing projects as a producer or director. In 2020, Howard told The Guardian that growing up in an acting family "does create a kind of bubble. So I look for projects that lead me to life experiences I wouldn't have otherwise had – and on my own, I'm an introverted, risk-averse individual. But, when there's a story to be told, it gets me out of the house, talking to people, learning things."

Clint Howard (Leon)

Ron Howard's brother Clint was just 2 years old when he made his first appearance on "The Andy Griffith Show" as Boy at Church Social in Season 2, Episode 17 ("The Jinx"). His blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance didn't win him any Emmys, but he did earn a character name, Leon, for his next four appearances on the show. In each brief scene, the youngster offers no lines and simply appears covered in peanut butter and jelly from a sandwich he clutches in his grubby little fingers.

Clint Howard got his first major role at 4 years old in the short-lived 1964 sitcom "The Baileys of Balboa" and his first-star turn as Mark Wedloe in 1967's "Gentle Ben." He went on to enjoy a long and steady career as a character actor, racking up a staggering 253 acting credits. He has appeared in such iconic franchises as Star Wars ("Solo: A Star Wars Story"), Star Trek (4 different shows), and Austin Powers (all three films).

Unsurprisingly, the Howard brothers have worked together on several film and television projects — including two episodes of "Happy Days" — and even teamed up for a memoir about their childhood called "The Boys." In 2021, Clint told Entertainment Weekly that his supportive family was a big part of his success. In fact, he credited his and his brother's careers to their parents' "unique way of operating." 

Clint also sought to dispel any rumors of jealousy in the family, saying, "I'm so grateful to be their son, and I just have a tremendous amount of gratitude being Ron's little brother. It's such a beautiful cool place to be, to be Ron Howard's brother ... People think that there's envy or there's conflict, and there really isn't."

Richard Keith (Johnny Paul Jason)

Between Seasons 3 and 6 of "The Andy Griffith Show," actor Richard Keith made 13 appearances as Johnny Paul Jason, a friend of Opie Taylor's. In 2015, he told the Archive of American Television, "It doesn't matter who you were or what you were on that show, you're a part of Mayberry forever." 

Notably, Keith's name may be familiar to you because "The Andy Griffith Show" isn't the only classic sitcom he appeared on in his early years. His first acting role saw him play Little Ricky Ricardo, the son of Lucy (Lucille Ball) and Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) in "I Love Lucy." In fact, Keith was reportedly given his stage name by Arnaz himself, who thought his real name — Keith Thibodeaux — was too hard to pronounce. He later reprised his role in "The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour," which ran for three years after "I Love Lucy" left the airwaves. As of 2022, Keith is the only living prominent cast member of "I Love Lucy."

In the decades since the series ended, Keith has spoken glowingly of his experience working with Andy Griffith and his co-stars. "[They were] very much like their characters," he said. "They were really nice to work with. [We] played checkers with the makeup man back there, played guitars, and sung songs ... Ron and I played catch and ate hamburgers at the commissary together." 

Interestingly, Keith has just two acting credits as an adult, in the 1975 TV movie "A Shadow in the Streets" and the 2009 flop "C Me Dance," which boasts a 0% Tomatometer reading and 21% audience score. After leaving the acting world, Keith played drums for David and the Giants, a secular-turned-Christian rock band. He now lives in Jackson, Mississippi with his wife Kathy and together they run Ballet Magnificat!, a touring Christian dance company that was featured heavily in "C Me Dance." 

Dennis Rush (Howie Pruitt)

Dennis Rush played another of Opie's friends, Howie Pruitt, in eight episodes from Seasons 3 through 5. His appearances on "The Andy Griffith Show" came near the end of an acting career that spanned 10 years and included stints on "Wagon Train" and guest roles on "Perry Mason," "The Lucy Show," and "My Favorite Martian." Like Richard Keith, Rush has very fond memories of life on "The Andy Griffith Show" set.

"There was hard work to be done, but son of a gun, everyone just enjoyed their time there, enjoyed working with one another," he told Andy Griffith's hometown paper, the Mt. Airy News. "It was just a genuinely fun situation ... Ron Howard and [Richard Keith], these were the two giants of kid acting and two of the nicest guys you could ever imagine." 

Rush's acting career ended when he was just 14 years old, but he has no regrets about leaving Hollywood when he did. "There is a time you just say bye to the industry," Rush said. "I graduated from high school, I was in the Marines three months later, that chapter of my life just ended so clean and so directly." According to Rush's LinkedIn, he recently retired after 36 years as the Director of Operations at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club in San Diego, California.

Sheldon Collins (Arnold Bailey)

Opie's best friend on the series was Arnold Bailey (Sheldon Collins), who appeared in nine episodes. In four of those, he was credited under his given name — Sheldon Golomb — and he returned as Arnold for two episodes of the follow-up series "Mayberry R.F.D." Collins was just 7 years old when he landed his first role on "Naked City" and added guest spots on legendary shows like "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Star Trek," and "I Dream of Jeannie" to his resumé before giving up acting in 1972 at the age of 17.

Similar to Dennis Rush, Collins found himself caught in the trap that snares many child actors as they move into adulthood. In an appearance at the Mayberry Squad Car Rendezvous in 1998, he said, "You go through this stage where you're too old for kid parts but you're not mature enough for adult parts ... in college, I started getting into science and I really liked it." That interest ultimately led the former child actor to a career in dentistry, a profession in which he continues to work to this day.