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R.I.P Jim Nabors, the beloved star of 'Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.' and 'The Andy Griffith Show'

Image: The Everett Collection

James Thurston Nabors, known to the world as Jim Nabors, is best remembered for portraying Gomer Pyle on the 1960s television series The Andy Griffith Show and its spinoff, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Born and raised in Sylacauga, Alabama, Nabors sang for his high school and church as a youth and later attended the University of Alabama, where he began dabbling in acting. His first job in the television industry was as a film cutter, first in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and later in Los Angeles, where he worked for NBC.

While working in Los Angeles, Nabors also was performing a cabaret act at a nightclub called The Horn. His act showcased both his talent for classical singing and a comedic character similar to what would later become Gomer Pyle. Discovered at the club in 1961 by comedian Bill Dana, Nabors was signed on to The Steve Allen Show; however, the show was soon cancelled. Not long after that, Nabors was again discovered at The Horn, this time by Andy Griffith, who hired him in 1962 to bring his act to The Andy Griffith Show in the form of dim-witted gas station attendant Gomer Pyle.

The popularity of the genial, bumbling character resulted in spin-off series Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1964–69). Nabors portrayed a Pyle removed from the idyllic country charm of Mayberry and dropped into the ranks of the United States Marine Corps. The show proved immensely successful and ran for five seasons.

Nabors then turned his attention to music, recording a variety of successful easy-listening albums. He also hosted variety show The Jim Nabors Hour (1969–71) and after its cancelation he embarked on a nationwide roadshow. Typecast for his longtime portrayal of Gomer Pyle, Nabors found himself cast mostly in comedic roles during the 1970s, although he did land his first serious performance in a 1973 episode of The Rookies, in which he played a man called on to be an assassin.

During the 1970s, Nabors appeared on several children’s shows, every season premiere of The Carol Burnett Show, and hosted another variety show from 1977–78, The Jim Nabors Show. He also toured, performing in nightclubs and concert halls. Nabors appeared in three feature films with friend Burt Reynolds in the early 1980s: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), Stoker Ace (1983) and Cannonball Run II (1984). And in 1986, Nabors appeared once again as Gomer Pyle in television movie Return to Mayberry, in which the cast of The Andy Griffith Show was reunited. He also returned to doing stage performances at Hotels in Hawaii and Las Vegas.

Nabors’ career grinded to a halt in 1994 when he was diagnosed with a life-threatening case of hepatitis B and required a liver transplant. After his recovery, Nabors continued performing on the road and starred in stage show A Merry Christmas with Friends of Nabors, which ran for 40 performances at the Hawaii Theatre Center in Honolulu from 1997 to 2006. For more than 30 years, Nabors was an institution at the Indianapolis 500, having sung “Back Home Again in Indiana” prior to the start of the race.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Nabors passed away Wednesday night in his home in Hawaii. He was 87.

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