×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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

Jim Nabors, whose name is synonymous with the genial bumpkin Gomer Pyle, whom he played on TV, has died. He was 87.

His husband, Stan Cadwallader, told the Associated Press that Nabors died on Thursday at their home in Hawaii.

He brought the words “golly” and “shazam” into the vernacular as the naive, well-intentioned Pyle, a regular character on “The Andy Griffith Show” that was later the focus of spinoff “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” Pyle was a loving caricature of a Southern rube, completely out of step with the ’60s and all the more lovable for it. The series ran for four seasons, and Nabors’ 20% cut of the syndication revenue for the popular series made him financially secure thereafter and able to pursue broader interests as a singer and comic raconteur.

Later attempts at a variety show did not last long, however, either on network TV or in firstrun syndication, though Nabors was a popular headliner on the Vegas-Reno nightclub circuit.

Nabors was discovered singing at the Horn cabaret in Santa Monica by writer-comedian Bill Dana, who booked Nabors for occasional stints on “The Steve Allen Show.”

In the early ’60s, he began to appear regularly on “The Andy Griffith Show” as the ingenuous gas station attendant Gomer Pyle, which led to his own CBS series, produced by Griffith, about Pyle’s misadventures after joining the Marines, about which the New York Times wrote, “Mr. Nabors conveys a particular mood of attractive awkwardness, and naivete, a contagious quality of special poignancy rooted in laughter.”

The program shot into the top 10 in the Nielsen ratings, where it stayed for its entire four seasons.

During that time, Nabors starred in a number of variety specials for CBS including “Friends and Nabors,” which attracted an audience of 33.9 million, and guested on shows for Danny Thomas and the Smothers Brothers. He entertained onstage in Vegas, Reno and Tahoe, and his first album, “Jim Nabors Sings,” sold a million copies. By 1967 he was earning $500,000 annually.

Although it was too late to ever completely dissociate himself from Gomer Pyle, Nabors decided to end the series in 1969, while it was still rated in the top five. He hosted variety program “The Jim Nabors Hour” for two seasons on CBS and, in the late ’70s, tried it again in syndication, though “The Jim Nabors Show” was more of a combination comedy/talk program.

During this period he toured almost year round, reaping the benefits of his natural baritone voice, his disarming Southern-boy personality and his high name recognition from television. For a time he lived in Honolulu near his close friend Carol Burnett and starred in “The Jim Nabors Polynesian Extravaganza” at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for two years.

Film roles were few, mostly cameo and supporting appearances in three Burt Reynolds vehicles, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” “Stroker Ace” and “Cannonball Run II.”

Nabors recorded more than two dozen albums. At least four were certified gold by the RIAA, the most recent of which was “Jim Nabors Christmas Album” in 1990.

James Thurston Nabors was born in Sylacauga, Ala. Chronic asthma resulted in a childhood of forced seclusion, and after graduation from the U. of Alabama, he lived for a time in New York, working as a typist at the United Nations. The recurring asthma problems forced him to return home, where he worked as an assistant film editor for a television station in Chattanooga, Tenn., and also sang occasionally on the station’s daytime shows.

After moving to Los Angeles, he continued to work as an editor and entertained for free in the evenings — performing operatic arias interspersed with monologues — until his discovery and subsequent work in television.

Nabors converted to Catholicism in the mid-’60s.

He married his partner of 38 years, Stan Cadwallader, in Washington in 2013 a month after gay marriage became legal in that state.

In addition to Cadwallader, he is survived by two sisters, Freddie and Ruth.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Hailee SteinfeldTribeca TV Festival 2019 Presents

    Hailee Steinfeld Announces New Single Tied to Apple TV Plus' 'Dickinson'

    Actress, singer and producer Hailee Steinfeld is set to release a new single entitled “Afterlife” on Sept. 19, a track she created for her upcoming Apple TV Plus series,”Dickinson.” “This is a song I’m incredibly proud of, and I feel like after embodying this character, I have a more fearless approach to my writing,” Steinfeld [...]

  • Rachel Bloom

    Rachel Bloom Announces Pregnancy After Emmy Win

    “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” star Rachel Bloom made a special announcement after winning her Emmy for best original music and lyrics — she is pregnant. Bloom announced the news backstage on Saturday at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards. She joked she had planned to reveal the news on Instagram but that doing it at the Emmys was even [...]

  • EVIL is a psychological mystery that

    TV Review: 'Evil'

    In its pilot installment, CBS’s new drama “Evil” delves into that which may lie beyond the rationally explicable. And the show itself represents something almost supernatural by 2019 standards, too: A well-made hour fueled by chemistry between its leads and a strong idea of itself. On the basis of its debut outing, which screened at [...]

  • Emmy Awards Placeholder

    Creative Arts Emmys: 'Free Solo,' 'Queer Eye' Among Big Winners on Night 1 (Full List)

    “Free Solo,” “Queer Eye,” “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Saturday Night Live” were among the big winners Saturday after the first night of the Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles. “Free Solo,” the National Geographic feature documentary that already claimed the Oscar earlier this year, lead the field on the [...]

  • Gary Cole, Christina Anthony, Tika Sumpter,

    'Mixed-ish' Team on Why 'All Stories About "Others" Are Necessary'

    The producers and cast of “Mixed-ish” are not out to tell a singular black and white story — but one that showcases and celebrates all shades in between. “It’s important for me across the board in all of my work to talk about ‘otherness’ and identity and real, grounded characters,” showrunner Karin Gist told Variety [...]

  • Shane Gillis

    Comedians Condemn Shane Gillis Over Slurs

    “Saturday Night Live” showrunner Lorne Michaels has yet to comment on the racist and homophobic remarks made by newly hired cast member Shane Gillis, but comedians and actors are expressing their condemnation on social media, some even asking that he be fired from the show.  Footage of Gillis’s podcast, “Matt and Shane’s Secret Podcast,” was [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content