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Jim Nabors, TV’s Gomer Pyle, dies at 87

Jim Nabors | File Photo

Actor/singer Jim Nabors best-known for his lead role in the hit 1960s TV series “Gomer Pyle, USMC,” and his recurring role on “The Andy Griffith Show,” has died. He was 87.

According to the Associated Press, Mr. Nabors, who underwent a liver transplant in 1994 after contracting hepatitis B, died peacefully at his home in Hawaii after his health had declined for the past year, said his husband, Stan Cadwallader, who was by his side.

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

The couple married in early 2013 in Washington state, where gay marriage had recently been made legal. Nabors’ friends had known for years that he was gay, but he had never said anything to the media.

“It’s pretty obvious that we had no rights as a couple, yet when you’ve been together 38 years, I think something’s got to happen there, you’ve got to solidify something,” Nabors told Hawaii News Now at the time. “And at my age, it’s probably the best thing to do.”

Despite his signature and endearing (and high-pitched) “Gollll-ly!” catchphrase, Mr. Nabors possessed a lush baritone, which led to the release of nearly 30 albums. He was a familiar presence at the Indianapolis 500 for decades, where he would sing the beloved “Back Home Again In Indiana” prior to race time. He last performed there in 2014.

According to People.com, Mr. Nabors and his longtime partner Stan Cadwallander, wed in 2013. The two were also business partners in Mr. Nabors’ macadamia nut plantation on the island of Maui.

The Sylacauga, Alabama native, born James Thurston Nabors, had a long career that featured TV and movie roles, and numerous concert appearances, including long-running shows in Las Vegas and Hawaii, the latter of which became his home in the 1970s. He received a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991.

Nabors was best known for his role as the sweet, gentle Marine in the title role of “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” a CBS comedy that was a top-five hit during its five-season run in the 1960s. Gomer’s dust-ups with his hard-nosed superior, Sgt. Carter (Frank Sutton), were the heart of the show and the character’s trademark exclamations — “Well, Golllll-ly!” and “Shazam!”— became familiar to millions.

The University of Alabama graduate moved to Los Angeles as a young man, taking a job as a film cutter at NBC. In his spare time, he acted and sang at a Santa Monica cabaret theater, The Horn. Andy Griffith saw him there and later offered him the the chance to audition for the role of Pyle, the innocent gas station attendant on “The Andy Griffith Show.” The character’s popularity led to the later spinoff.

After Pyle ended, Nabors hosted his own variety show, “The Jim Nabors Hour,” which ran for two seasons. He also was a guest on other variety hours, including “The Carol Burnett Show” and “The Sonny and Cher Show.”

On the big screen, Nabors had roles in three films starring his friend, Burt Reynolds: “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” “Stroker Ace” and “Cannonball Run II.”

He spent much of his later years performing as a singer, especially in Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada. His regional gigs included frequent visits to Chicago, notably the Drury Lane Theatre in Evergreen Park. In a 1998 Sun-Times interview, Mr. Nabors remarked about his popularity among Windy City audiences: “Chicago has been good to me. I must be doing something right. I just learned they added a fifth show.”

Contributing: Associated Press

Jim Nabors was often a guest on “The Carol Burnett Show.” | CBS