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Few actors epitomized the aw-shucks country boy persona better than Emmy-nominated actor and singer Jim Nabors. He won over television audiences in the early 1960s with a unique dual talent - wide-eyed, rural-based comedy that occasionally gave way to a rich, florid baritone singing voice. Nabors parlayed his skills on countless variety programs before Andy Griffith tapped him to play naïve gas pump jockey Gomer Pyle on "The Andy Griffith Show" (CBS, 1960-68). The character proved so popular with viewers that Nabors was granted his own sitcom, "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." (CBS, 1964-69), which pitted the Mayberry favorite against a hard-nosed drill instructor (Frank Sutton). After "Pyle" was discharged from the airwaves, he remained a popular guest star on variety programs, most notably "The Carol Burnett Show" (CBS, 1967-1978) and occasional features starring his good friend Burt Reynolds. Although Nabors maintained a lucrative career as a nightclub singer and dinner theater performer in his later years, for a generation of television fans he would forever remain that hilariously gullible, well-intentioned yokel with the golden voice. Jim Nabors died in his adopted home of Hawaii on November 30, 2017. He was 87.
Born in Sylacauga, AL on June 12, 1930, Nabors was known as a talented singer from childhood, displaying his ability in the local church choir and high school glee club. But he got his first real taste of performing at a fraternity talent show while attending the University of Alabama. After graduation, he moved to New York and worked as a typist at the United Nations, then returned to the South after just a year and worked as a film cutter in Chattanooga, TN. Plagued by asthma since his boyhood, he relocated to Los Angeles, where he continued to work as a film cutter at NBC. His evenings were devoted to performing at a cabaret theater in Santa Monica called The Horn, where he developed his stage persona of the innocent boy from the hills who just happened to possess a golden voice. Comedian Bill Dana caught his act and invited him to appear on "The Steve Allen Show" (NBC/ABC, 1956-1961). He was quickly signed to the show, but his tenure was short-lived - Allen's program was cancelled at the end of the 1961 season.
Having quit his job at NBC to join the "Allen Show," he traveled north to San Francisco and found work at the famed Purple Onion nightclub. But after six months, he returned to Los Angeles to perform once again at The Horn. The decision was a fortuitous one - actor Andy Griffith saw one of his performances and asked him to audition for a role on his popular series, "The Andy Griffith Show." The part was Gomer Pyle - the unusual first name was allegedly an acronym for "Get Out of My Emergency Room" given to slackers with a penchant for sick days, though there was also a Biblical figure with the same moniker. But Nabors managed to find the innate sweetness of the character, who worked with his cousin Goober (George Lindsay) and provided a mild distraction for Griffith's Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts) with nonsensical stories which were punctuated with "Sha-ZAM!" or "Surprise, surprise, surprise!" Like Nabors, Gomer possessed a lovely singing voice and was given the opportunity to use it on several episodes.
Gomer proved exceptionally popular with "Griffith Show" viewers, and the producers granted him his own series in 1964. "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." sent him to South Carolina to serve in the Marines, where his kind-hearted nature ran afoul of Gunnery Sergeant Vince Carter (Sutton). The premise of the show, which bore a strong resemblance to "No Time For Sergeants," a 1958 feature which gave Andy Griffith one of his earliest starring roles, proved as popular as the "Griffith Show." The character's name soon entered the pop culture lexicon as a somewhat mean-spirited military synonym for foolishness or ignorance. Nabors parlayed his success into a recording career, which counted some 28 albums, five of which went gold and one earned platinum status.
Nabors' musical ambitions were more in line with how he viewed his career. After "Pyle" left the airwaves, he divided his time between guest appearances on television variety shows and his recording career, which by then had expanded to regular stage appearances in Las Vegas and nightclubs across the country. His first post-Pyle effort was "The Jim Nabors Hour" (CBS, 1969-1971), a good-natured variety show which also featured Sutton and comic Ronnie Schell from "Gomer Pyle." The show, which featured musical numbers and comedy sketches as well as guest stars, earned Nabors a Golden Globe nomination in 1970. In 1975, he teamed with Ruth Buzzi for "The Lost Saucer" (ABC, 1975-76), a children's science fiction series from puppeteers Sid and Marty Krofft, about two bungling robots (Nabors and Buzzi) whose inability to control their spacecraft takes them and two stowaway children on numerous adventures. A close friend of comedienne Carol Burnett, Nabors was also the regular guest for the season-opening episode of "The Carol Burnett Show" for many years.
Nabors returned to television in a more adult frame of mind for "The Jim Nabors Show" (syndicated, 1977-78), a morning talk show that earned him a Daytime Emmy nomination. But singing held more interest for him, and he focused largely on his nightclub and touring appearances for most of the 1980s. Then his friend Burt Reynolds tapped him to provide some cornpone humor to three features, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" (1982), and the ghastly comedies "Stroker Ace" (1983) and "The Cannonball Run II" (1984). But for the most part, Nabors was content to perform in Las Vegas and at hotels in his new permanent home in Hawaii. In 1986, he reunited with his "Andy Griffith Show" co-stars for the affectionate TV movie tribute, "Return to Mayberry." The popularity of the original show and "Gomer Pyle" proved enduring in reruns, earning Nabors several tributes for his work: a 1991 star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a highway named after him in Talladega County, FL and most amusingly, a promotion for eternal Private Gomer Pyle to Lance Corporal by the Commandant of the Marine Corps in 2001. He was later promoted to full-fledged Corporal in 2007.
Nabors made news in 1994 when he underwent a liver transplant after contracting hepatitis from a shaving accident while in India. The incident brought to light a longtime public rumor about Nabors' sexuality, which had been under scrutiny since the early 1970s when gossip wags floated a story about him marrying Rock Hudson. Nabors denied the allegation, but made no comments in regard to his inclusion in a 2005 story about gay celebrities. After the turn of the new millennium, Nabors was busy with singing engagements with symphony orchestras and music hall dates across the country, as well as his long-standing gig as the featured performer at the Indianapolis 500. He also made his stage debut in a production of "The Music Man" opposite Florence Henderson, which premiered at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater in Florida. Meanwhile, after decades of remaining quiet about his sexuality, Nabors finally confirmed reports that he married his longtime partner, Stan Cadwallader, on Jan. 15, 2013. The couple of 38 years traveled from their Honolulu, HI home to Seattle, WA, where gay marriage became legal the previous month. At 82 years old, Nabors had endured rumors of his homosexuality for decades, but had only previously confided the truth to friends and co-workers. While he confirmed the news to the world at large, Nabors stayed clear of the larger political argument, stating that everyone had their own views, but that he was personally very happy and blessed. Nabors then settled back into retirement, dying on November 30, 2017 at the age of 87 in his adopted home state of Hawaii.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Invited to appear on "The Steve Allen Show" (NBC/ABC) and signed on shortly after; show was canceled at end of 1961 season
Played Gomer Pyle, the dim-witted gas station attendant on "The Andy Griffith Show" (CBS)
Revealed his singing voice on an episode of "The Danny Kaye Show" (CBS)
Reprised role of Gomer Pyle for spin-off series "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." (CBS)
Made the first of many appearances on "The Carol Burnett Show" (CBS)
Hosted the variety show "The Jim Nabors Hour" (CBS)
Teamed with Ruth Buzzi for "The Lost Saucer" (ABC)
After moving to Hawaii, launched "The Jim Nabors Polynesian Extravaganza" at the Hilton Hawaiian Village
Returned to television for morning talk show "The Jim Nabors Show" (Syndicated)
Made stage debut in production of "The Music Man" at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater in Florida
Played Deputy Fred in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," starring his friend Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton
Re-teamed with Burt Reynolds for "Stroker Ace"
Made a cameo in Reynold's "Cannonball Run II"
Returned to the stage for "Moulin Rouge" show at Las Vegas Hilton
Reunited with "Andy Griffith Show" co-stars for TV movie tribute "Return to Mayberry" (NBC)
Received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Starred in "A Merry Christmas with Friends and Nabors," a live performance at the Hawaii Theatre Center