The Aunt Bee We Never Saw

Actress Frances Bavier is recognized more as Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show than by her real name. That’s because for eight years she came into our homes as the kindly elderly aunt of Sheriff Andy Taylor on the CBS sitcom. In fact, she logged more years on the show than any other actor and was the only original cast member to remain with the series in the spin-off, Mayberry R.F.D. What you might not know about Aunt Bee is that she wasn’t as kindly off-screen as she was on-screen. Those who worked on the show have revealed that Bavier was easily offended on the set, so much so that the staff took a cautious approach when communicating with her. Andy Griffith even said that Bavier phoned him four months before she died to apologize for being difficult during the series run. Bavier herself even confessed in an interview that she could be hard to get along with, saying: “It's very difficult for an actress to create a role and to be so identified that you as a person no longer exist and all the recognition you get is for a part that is created on the screen.” In 1972, Bavier retired from acting and bought a home in Siler City, North Carolina. She had married Russell Carpenter in 1928, but they divorced in 1933 and she never had children. On November 22, 1989, she was admitted to Chatham Hospital, where she was kept in the coronary care unit for two weeks. She was discharged on December 4, 1989, and died at her home two days later, eight days before her 87th birthday. The immediate causes of death were listed as congestive heart failure, myocardial infarction, coronary artery disease, and atherosclerosis, with supporting factors being breast cancer, arthritis, and COPD. She is interred at Oakwood Cemetery in Silver City, and her headstone includes the name of her most famous role, "Aunt Bee", and reads, "To live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die.”