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

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Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle (photo from Wikipedia)

Whatever else he might have accomplished during his career—and that includes recording more than two dozen albums—Jim Nabors will always be known as Gomer Pyle. The actor, who played the affable country bumpkin first on The Andy Griffith Show before his character was granted his own spinoff program—Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.—died of unspecified causes at his Hawaii home today (Nov. 30). His husband, Stan Cadwallader, was at his side, according to published obituaries. Nabors was 87 and had been in declining health for some time.

Born James Thurston Nabors in Sylacauga, Ala., on June 12, 1930, the future star moved first to New York City, then Tennessee and finally to Southern California, where he began his show business career singing and acting in nightclubs. Nabors was signed for one episode on Griffith’s popular weekly sitcom, playing a dimwitted gas station attendant. Nabors came onto the show during its third season and his character was popular enough that he became a regular, appearing in 23 episodes in all.

On the show, Nabors popularized the usage of the words “Shazam!” and a drawn-out “golly” as Pyle.

At the end of season four, Pyle enlisted in the Marines, which led to his own sitcom. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. debuted in September 1964 and ran for five seasons, regularly making the top 10 in the national Nielsen TV ratings. Both that program and The Andy Griffith Show were part of a wave of rural-centric comedies—others were The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres—that were all the rage in the mid-’60s.

Related: This year we also lost another popular singer and TV star, Glen Campbell

Watch Nabors, as Gomer Pyle, sing “The Impossible Dream”

Jim Nabors in 2010 (photo from Wikipedia)

Nabors then became a regular on variety programs and headlined his own The Jim Nabors Hour for two seasons, and later hosted a syndicated talk show. His CBS special Friends and Nabors attracted more than 30 million viewers.

Beside acting, his other passion was signing, and Nabors did so in a booming, semi-operatic style that often surprised fans who thought he actually spoke in the nasal, country twang that the Pyle character employed. Nabors recorded 28 albums in all during his career, 13 of which landed on the Billboard LPs chart. His 1967 collection, Jim Nabors’ Christmas Album, reached #1 on the trade publication’s Christmas chart, returning to that chart for seven years in a row. He often headlined on the Las Vegas-Reno nightclub circuit.

Listen to Jim Nabors sing Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”

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