Credit: CBS via Getty Images

Playing Andy Griffith’s son, Opie, on The Andy Griffith Show, Ron Howard had a first-hand look into one of the most popular television shows — and characters — of all time. With the news that star Andy Griffith passed away this morning at age 86, Howard got on the phone with EW to share his favorite memories about his TV dad.

On his first meeting with Griffith, Howard said, “I was five years old. And I was preoccupied with the prop that was in my hand, because it was a toy turtle. But I had to pretend it was a real turtle that the audience just wasn’t seeing, and it was dead, so I was supposed to be crying and very emotional, and I remember him looking at that little turtle and talking to me about how it was kind of funny to have to pretend that was dead. So I recall just a very relaxed first impression.”

Howard stressed the positive memories he had of his time on the show and of Griffith’s role in that supportive environment. “He was fantastic,” Howard said. “There was a fantastic equilibrium between his love of laughter and jokes and funny stories and songs and all that, and then he could turn on a dime and be the utmost professional…. If people who met him were to be surprised [to learn something about him] it would be this sort of simple commitment to excellence. This straightforward work ethic that he adhered to in a very unpretentious way with great humility and very few words.”

Although the two lost touch for many years after the show, in the past decade they spoke quite a bit more, talking on the phone several times last year. For fans, Howard hopes you’ll look back on the guy who “had a great sense of humor about life” and you won’t just remember The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock, but will check out A Face in the Crowd, or get online and listen to What It Was, Was Football. “He loved people,” Howard said. “He loved their foibles, their quirks, and he celebrated that on the show, and he appreciated it about people in life.”

Read more: