Comic Actor and Operatic Singer Jim Nabors Dies at 87

Jim Nabors was an icon of country innocence with a strong voice for gay acceptance.

Comic actor Jim Nabors, best known for playing the character Gomer Pyle and singing at the Indy 500, died at the age of 87 at his home in Honolulu, Hawaii, his husband, Stan Cadwallader, announced.

“Everybody knows he was a wonderful man. And that’s all we can say about him,” Cadwallader told the Associated Press. “He’s going to be dearly missed.”

Nabors with his signature “gollee” and “shazam” exclamations and never-flagging enthusiasm, put a subtly sophisticated face on the country-bumpkin stereotype. Nabors created his signature gas station attendant character for The Andy Griffith Show in the early 1960s, and enlisted for a starring role in the Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. spinoff in 1964. The series ran five seasons.

James Thurston Nabors was born in Sylacauga, Alabama, in 1930. He started to entertain his friends when he was a kid because of bouts of asthma. Nabors graduated from the University of Alabama, and spent the early part of his show business career as an assistant film editor and singer in New York City, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and finally Hollywood.

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Nabors edited film for NBC during the day and  sang at The Horn, night club on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica at night. He would go on to record over 28 country or light operatic albums and perform regularly in Las Vegas. He also sang the song “Back Home Again in Indiana” at the Indianapolis 500, several times.

Nabors’ regular performances on a talent show got the attention of Andy Griffith, who played Sheriff Andy Taylor to Don Knotts’ Deput Barney Fife, on The Andy Griffith Show on CBS. Nabors was castas Goober’s (George Lindsey) cousin Gomer, the mechanic at Wally’s gas station in Mayberry. Nabors was supposed to appear on one episode during the third season of The Andy Griffith Show in December 1962, but the character was so popular he was cast on 23 more episodes. Gomer joined the U.S. Marines in the season 4 finale.

Nabors also appeared in the Burt Reynolds vehicles The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Stroker Ace.  Nabors got a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in 1991. Carol Burnett, Loni Anderson, Phyllis Diller and Florence Henderson were at the ceremony.

Nabors lived in Hawaii with his longtime partner Cadwallader, who he married in 2013 after same-sex marriage became legal in Washington. Nabors met former firefighter Cadwallader in 1975.