Variety reports that TV legend Jim Nabors died today at the age of 87. Nabors became famous in the early days of TV for playing lovable hick Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show from 1962 to 1964.
The character was so popular that Gomer got spun off into his own series, Gomer Pyle: USMC, from 1964 to 1969. The character’s “aw-schucks” twang helped usher his catchphrases like “well, golllllllllly” and “sha-zaam!” into the general vernacular. Gomer Pyle remained popular even though his good-hearted naiveté seemed nostalgically out of step with the rapidly modernizing decade.
When the 1970s arrived, Nabors became popular on the then-thriving TV variety show circuit. He boasted a rich baritone (eventually recording 40 albums), so he was a natural for comical skits followed by musical numbers. Pal Carol Burnett called him her good luck charm, and would often book him for the first show of the season. Another friend, Burt Reynolds, cast Nabors in his movies and starred him as Harold Hill in a stage production of The Music Man.
Nabors also appeared on the TV shows of Sonny And Cher, Tony Orlando And Dawn, and Flip Wilson, resulting in his own variety series in 1978. He was also legendary for singing “Back Home In Indiana” every year for 35 years at the Indianapolis 500, even though he didn’t know the song at first; he thought he was supposed to be singing the “Star-Spangled Banner.” USA Today recalled the story:
“When I got over there to meet the conductor of the Purdue band, I said, ‘What key do you do this in?’ He looked at me and said, ‘We only got one key.’ I said, ‘No, Star-Spangled Banner’s got two keys.’ He said, ‘You’re not singing that.’ I said, ‘What the hell am I singing?’”
In 2013, at the age of 82, Nabors wed his long-time partner Stan Cadwallader in a civil ceremony. He said, “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. And, at my age, it’s probably the best thing to do.” He and Cadwallader lived on a macadamia nut farm in Hawaii, where Cadwallader reports Nabors died at home. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway quickly tweeted out: