Frances Bavier, Mayberry’s ‘Aunt Bee,’ Dead at Age 86
SILER CITY, N.C. (AP) _ Frances Bavier, an Emmy Award-winning actress remembered by millions of fans as the devoted Aunt Bee on ″The Andy Griffith Show,″ died Wednesday night at her home. She was 86.
Miss Bavier was released early this week from Chatham Hospital, where she was being treated in the coronary care unit. She died about 7 p.m., said Leslie Fletcher of Smith and Buckner Funeral Home.
″She was always one of my favorite people,″ said actor Jim Nabors, who played the naive, lovable gas station attendant Gomer Pyle in the series. ″I am a better person for having known her.″
A native of New York City, she attended Columbia University and was a graduate of the American Academy of the Arts.
She had more than 20 years of stage experience, including stints in vaudeville and on Broadway, where she appeared in such productions as ″Kiss and Tell,″ ″Point of No Return″ and ″The Lady Says No.″
She became famous for her television role in the popular show starring Andy Griffith as a Southern sheriff, which she continued in the short-lived series ″Mayberry RFD.″ She won an Emmy for the role in 1967.
″Andy Griffith″ was near the top of the ratings from Oct. 1960 to Sept. 1968 when Griffith left the show.
″Many episodes focused on her and she was essential to the success of the show,″ said John Meroney, founder of the Andy Griffith Show Appreciation Society.
″When she started on the show she was 57 and had more experience going in than any of the other cast members,″ he said. ″She was the only one from a large city and the fact that she could portray Aunt Bee showed the depth of her talent.″
During her stay in Chatham Hospital, Miss Bavier received many cards, letters and flowers from well-wishing fans.
At one point, she invited the show’s other cast members - Griffith, Don Knotts and Ron Howard - to visit her in the hospital. Officials would not say whether any of the cast members visited.
It was while doing ″The Andy Griffith Show″ that Bavier came to North Carolina in 1963 to participate in the famous rice diet at Duke University Medical Center. She made friends in Siler City and began visiting them.
She retired to Siler City in 1972 but made a cameo appearance in the 1974 movie ″Benji″.
A private person, she had refused media requests for interviews for some time.
″She was never big on doing interviews but in my converstions with her she was always open and willing to talk about her days on the Andy Griffith Show,″ Meroney said.