Jim Nabors, the Alabama-born comic actor who starred as TV’s dim but good-hearted Southern rube Gomer Pyle and constantly surprised audiences with his twang-free operatic singing voice, died early Thursday morning.
He was 87 years old.
Nabors underwent a liver transplant in 1994 after contracting hepatitis B. He died peacefully at his Hawaii home with his husband, Stan Cadwallader, by his side.
Cadwallader met Nabors in 1974, not long after Nabors moved to Hawaii.
“I don’t know how to even put into words yet,” Cadwallader told KHON2. “It hasn’t struck me. It was early this morning, and it’s just been busy, and doing things, and you feel, when am I going to feel this?”
Nabors became an instant success when he joined “The Andy Griffith Show” in the early 1960s. The character of Gomer Pyle, the unworldly, lovable gas pumper who would exclaim “Gollllll-ly!” proved so popular that in 1964 CBS starred him in “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”
In the spinoff, which lasted five seasons, Gomer left his hometown of Mayberry to become a Marine recruit.
Audiences saw another side of Nabors in appearances in TV variety programs – his booming baritone.
For two seasons beginning in 1969, CBS presented “The Jim Nabors Hour,” on which he joshed with guest stars, did sketches with Sutton and fellow “Gomer” veteran Ronnie Schell, and sang country and opera.
He was also, for many years, the mighty voice of the Indianapolis 500.
“One of his passions every year, he would go to the Indy 500 and open the race. That was a good shot,” Cadwallader said, referring to a photo that hangs in one of Nabor’s favorite rooms.
Photos of many famous friends also hang on the walls of their home.
As an entertainer, Nabors was known for making people smile. We asked Cadwallader what he was like off-camera.
“He honestly truly loved people. He loved spending time with people. He liked that whole interaction,” Cadwallader said.
“Jim would talk to everybody. He would share aloha with everybody,” said friend and Hawaii entertainer Danny Kaleikini. “I think that’s so important, because he was a superstar. This guy was big time, and for him to take time to break bread with us, I really appreciated that. So much aloha and love. We love him. We love you, brother. God bless.”
Countless people say Nabors’ heart was as big as his booming voice.
He was known locally in Hawaii for his annual Christmas shows, and supported many local charities, including the Hawaiian Humane Society, and also the military.
In 2007, the U.S. Marine Corps honored the entertainer by promoting him to the rank of corporal because he “consistently and faithfully exhibited the spirit of the United States Marine.” In 2013, he was awarded the rank honorary sergeant.
“Being in show business, one of the nicest things was my association with these wonderful ladies and gentlemen of the United States Marine Corps. Semper fi,” he said in 2007.
“Jim Nabors was a champion for animals, a close friend, and a great supporter of the Hawaiian Humane Society. We were saddened to hear of his passing,” said Lisa Fowler, Hawaiian Humane Society president and CEO.
Nabors also helped with Hawaii’s organ donor campaign, after he had a liver transplant.
His health had been declining for some time. His husband says they brought him home from the hospital at his request. He died shortly after.
“He had a this great dynamic life, and I was just lucky to be able to participate in it,” Cadwallader said. “He’s told me, ‘I want to be remembered as a good guy.’ He often said, ‘I’d like to be the guy that Gomer Pyle was,’ and I said, ‘You are Gomer Pyle.'”