Jim Nabors, best known in his younger years for playing country bumpkin Gomer Pyle on two different hit TV sitcoms, and in his later years for singing — particularly at the opening of every Indy 500 — has died. He was 87. Nabors died in his home in Hawaii, his longtime partner and husband, Stan Cadwallader, reported.
His website lists a short but sweet bio:
Jim Nabors was born in 1930 in Alabama and raised there, graduating from the University of Alabama. He moved to Los Angeles due to his asthmatic condition and was discovered on stage doing a cabaret act at “The Horn”. The rest is history.
The longer story?
“Surprise, surprise, surprise.”
Andy Griffith discovered Nabors working at a Santa Monica nightclub, and put him in The Andy Griffith Show, where Nabors played a bumbling gas station attendant named Gomer Pyle. Pyle’s character proved popular enough to support a a spin-off, where the network sent him from Mayberry to the United States Marine Corps in California for a double-dose of culture shock in the late 1960s for Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
It all started for Jim Nabors in Sylacauga, Ala., singing in his high school’s glee club and church choir.
He tried majoring in business administration at the University of Alabama, typing for the United Nations in New York City, and cutting film in Chattanooga, Tenn., before giving Hollywood a shot. Bill Dana discovered Nabors first, inviting him to audition for The Steve Allen Show. That gig was short-lived, though. Nabors bounced from San Francisco’s The Purple Onion back to Los Angeles, where Griffith first saw him.
Nabors had a much-longer career as a singer than as an actor, recording 28 albums, five going gold and one platinum. He sang “Back Home Again in Indiana” before the start of the Indianapolis 500 almost every year from 1972-2014.
Burt Reynolds convinced Nabor to appear in three of Burt’s films, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Stroker Ace, and Cannonball Run II.
Carol Burnett also asked Nabors to appear on her variety show for each season premiere, just for good luck. Here the two performed years before Burnett’s show on Gomer Pyle:
Rest in peace, Jim.