Ernest Dempsey — The news of Andy Griffith’s death precipitated sorrow and a deep feeling of loss for millions of TV lovers, Andy being an iconic TV celeb in and beyond the English speaking world. But just days after, Ernest Borgnine’s death news added to the feeling that this year, the month of July sounds pretty hard and personal about taking away our senior legends of screen.
For me, Ernest Borgnine’s magic preceded Andy Griffith’s splendor as his appearance in the character Dominic Santini in Airwolf marked the first time we school-going kids would talk about as an action hero flying a chopper and participating in all the adventures that we would normally associate with young men. Back in the mid 80s, Uncle Dom, as he became known among us, was brave, funny, and well… a little overweight, but still a hero. Mind here that he was the first aging ‘man’ we would accept as a hero; Angela Lansbury (wishing her a million more years of health and happiness) as Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote already had introduced us to the “old but smart lady” who alone was enough to fix things against the bad guys.
Dom was our man of action in a more fun, amusing sort of way than any of the younger heroes of the time – one of the few who would be talked about as excitedly as his younger co-star Stringfellow Hawke (Jan Michael Vincent) in the school among us who watched English TV shows. I looked to Dom to make our life light with the homework as he did with his fight against bad guys – always ready to take on challenges; and so we learnt from this cheerful face of a healthily aging guy that work could be fun. Dom was also a living proof that overweight people can be cool people and the cultural stereotypes of the fat old man being a creep were actually what one should laugh at.
Andy Griffith replaced Dom as the aging heor a few years later when Airwolf was no more on the TV screen. In his eponymous character of Matlock, Andy was sort of the male counterpart of Lansbury, though unlike her (a detective-writer), he was a lawyer dealing criminal cases. Matlock didn’t have the physical action young teens usually like to see and thrill themselves with; yet, Andy changed our image of a hero from a young man ready for physical combat to a seasoned brain that served justice peacefully and wisely. Cheerful with a smiling face and sometimes brief mood shifts while pursuing a criminal investigation closely, Matlock was the kind of figure who made one forget about age and defined heroism as the ability to follow through with a clear mind and commitment to working in control, bringing the truth to public knowledge.
Andy Griffith and Ernest Borgnine have made lasting, positive impacts on people of all ages who watched them from anywhere in the world. They lived as true heroes and their death has not taken from us the values they left as the light to follow. For me, I believe, they will be remembered by those of my generation when we turn old and gray, and will remember these cool men who gave age a beautiful touch with their vibrant personalities. Only those lucky enough get such inspiration as Andy and Ernest brought to them; and I feel lucky to be one of them.