Saturday, July 17, 2021


One of the most iconic television shows of all time was The Andy Griffith Show. The show may seem dated now, but in the 1960s it showcased an easy going surburban life that all of middle America dreamed of. The star was Andy Griffith but one of the most endearing characters was Aunt Bee, played by character actress Frances Bavier. After the Andy Griffith Show ended in 1968, Bavier played a few more roles before retiring. Her final years is mostly a mystery as she became a recluse.

According to her obituary from the Associated Press, which appeared thousands of miles away in the Los Angeles Times, she almost never left her house. The Studebaker in her garage had four flat tires. The obituary also said her cats used a downstairs shower stall as a litter box, but Vickie Russell, who lives with her husband in Bavier’s former house, says that’s just not true. The Russells bought the house six months after Bavier died and Vickie Russell said there was never any sign that the shower was used as a litter box — or that the cats were anything but well cared for. The hardwood floors in the house, she adds, were not stained in the least.

Shortly after taking up residence in Chatham County in 1972, Bavier did charity work for both Christmas and Easterseals, wrote Chip Womick of the (Asheboro) Courier-Tribune in the early 1980s. But she soon dropped out of sight, declining interviews, keeping fan mail in a pair of trunks.

Frances Bavier liked her privacy, but even in the little town she moved to people would harrass her. A visit to the town center meant all eyes casting judgment, the ladies at the beauty parlor never forgave her for not joining one of their churches. There were unceasing invitations to Sunday services wherever she went. “Don’t forget, you went to church in Mayberry,” passers-by would say with a sickly-sweet, curt grin. That was one of Bavier’s signature moves on the show!

Week after week the same goobers would bump into her asking, “Was that Opie I saw mowin’ yer grass on Sadiddy?” She’d want to scream, “Why are you fixated on my yard?!?” Young couples followed her down the aisles of the Piggly-Wiggly, “Yer not makin’ pickles this summer are ya, Aint Bee?”

Small wonder that, by the 1980s, the former television star was living out of her back bedroom, curtains pulled tight, with 14 devoted kitties for company. She loved her feline companions so much she converted a 250-square-foot bathroom into a sprawling cat box with kitty litter inches deep. What few visitors she had in her final years, store clerks and deliverymen mostly, were overwhelmed by the peeling paint, filthy living conditions and an atmosphere steeped in soft-cream clouds of ammonia that hung over everything like a suffocating umbrella.

In 1986, three years after she’d stopped venturing out in public, Andy Griffith and Ron Howard made a surprise visit to Siler City’s reclusive cat lady. Bavier refused to allow her decade-long coworkers inside, speaking to them only momentarily through the closed front door. This was after declining repeatedly to be part of their Mayberry reunion movie. Why would she participate? She never liked Andy Griffith from the very beginning.

“She wasn’t the woman you saw on TV,” said Floyd Bowers, who worked at an Exxon station near Bavier’s grave and spoke to press about her in 2004. “She liked her privacy, and she was hard to please. My wife worked at the hospital, and she was what the nurses call a hard patient.” There were reports that Bavier suffered a chronic heart condition and neighbors described her as senile, saying she didn't like to wear clothing and had to be prevented from leaving home in a state of undress.

Frances Bavier, forever Aunt Bee, died on December 6, 1989 at the age of 86...

Last known photo of Frances Bavier - c. 1983


  1. Some of the people that lived there were very cruel and many lies were told about Frances Bavier.
    When you cause someone to suffer in life, you also will suffer in your life in time. Karma is always waiting patiently.

  2. In some ways she reminded me of my own mother. Her smile and"on the show",her unique way of casting cheer upon others

  3. I've always heard that she was very difficult to work with and was in almost constant battles with Griffith and Danny Thomas' production company. She wasn't like "Aunt Bea" at all.

    1. It is also rumored repeatedly that Andy Griffith was a very difficult man to deal with later on in life. I love about an hour and a half from his home in Outer Banks and locals say he was very grouchy and cantankerous and not very accommodating to locals or fans that “happened up” on him. Again just a rumor that has been said. I never saw it met him nor have that as a proven fact. But it was said that he was fairly demanding and not very friendly with the public. Total opposite of his sweet, friendly and gracious character… which seems to be the same as “Aunt Bee”.

  4. If she wasn't Aunt Bea in real life that means she was a really good actor. That was her job and she did it well! I don't blame her for being sick of people harassing her. I just don't think she well by becoming a recluse with her cats. I've heard the rumor that she had one room for a litter box forever. It's sad but true.

  5. I'd like to start by clarifying one point in the article, Frances continued the role of Aunt Bee in the follow-up series Mayberry RFD, a show she remained part of through the first two seasons. If she wanted to live a life of relative privacy why in the world did she move to a small community in North Carolina! Talk about life imitating art. One final note, the picture from 1983 of Frances that appears in the article doesn't look like her at all, where did it come from (it looks very contemporary to have been taken almost 40 years ago).

  6. I don't think that last photo is Frances Bavier. There's very little resemblance to her in that photo.

  7. Everett Greenbaum (who scripted many of the show's classic episodes) said she was difficult. At each year's wrap party, she would say "The only thing wrong with this show is that the writing is terrible".

  8. I loved what Andy Griffith created from 1960 to 1968. But Andy & Crew weren’t what they presented: they were excellent actors. Andy & Opies politics turned out to be 180 degrees from Mayberry (sad to find out), but that’s Hollywood. What was precious was the love, humor and dignity we witnessed….it will never come again. The writing was stellar and the characters were exceptionally well connected. Thank God for reruns.