Jim Nabors who earned as many fans with his comedy as he did with his serious music career has died at age 87 as reported by the Hollywood Reporter.
He was best known to the world as his iconic comedy character Gomer Pyle. That’s because the character Jim Nabors created was a major success on two different smash hit television shows. First on “The Andy Griffith Show” and on the spin-off, “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” Jim Nabors’ unassuming, but hilariously funny character brought the words and catchphrases, “Shazam”, “Garsh”, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!” and extended, multiple syllable form of “Golly” to life on TV every week.
The character Gomer Pyle was buffoonish, clownish, silly and above all else absolutely lovable. Jim Nabors was able to transcend all the country stereotypes of 1960s television to create the enduring embodiment of a gullible, but sweet and shy southern small town resident with a giant heart of gold that would live on in reruns and in TV fandom for decades to come. Gomer Pyle was first introduced to TV viewers on “The Andy Griffith Show” as the young filling station attendant and mechanic who had a penchant for trouble while trying to do his best in the small fictional North Carolina town of Mayberry. Jim Nabors appeared in memorable moments in The Andy Griffith Show in episodes like “The Great Filling Station Robbery” and “Barney’s First Car“. Speaking of Barney, Jim Nabors’ Gomer Pyle was an incredible comedy partner in scenes with Don Knotts who played Mayberry’s Deputy Barney Fife. The two played off of each other flawlessly through hysterical episodes with Gomer outsmarting the superior feeling Barney and where the two found themselves in messes requiring Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) to bail them out. Gomer Pyle became such a popular character that Andy Griffith along with his writers Everett Greenbaum and Jim Fritzell along with genius showrunner Aaron Ruben, developed a new sitcom where the character could get into even more trouble and have the spotlight.
“Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” ran from 1964 till 1969. In the ratings, the series was in the top 10 for its entire run and ended as the #2 show on television. The spin-off took Jim Nabors’ character far away from the backwoods of North Carolina and to fictional Marine military base, Camp Henderson in California. This added a “fish out of water” aspect to the already befuddled Gomer Pyle by having him set in big Los Angeles where he encountered movie producers, hippies and con men among other California types. On this own show, he needed another comedy foil which came in the form of the rageaholic always-ready-to-explode Marine Gunnery Sergeant Vince Carter played to perfection by Frank Sutton. The show also helped launched the careers of comedian Ronnie Schell, Allan Melvin and M*A*S*H‘s William Christopher.
It was on “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” where Nabors’ singing talents were first incorporated on a regular basis on television. The Marine private was constantly being put into situations where he was required to sing. Those musical television moments led to Jim Nabors recording nearly 30 albums over the course of his career. Nabors recorded a version of “The Impossible Dream” from Man of la Mancha, which became his personal signature song whenever he appeared in concert.
Jim Nabors comedy and musical talents were later put use on The Jim Nabors Hour variety show which didn’t match Nabors’ sitcoms in popularity. However, he would later become a favorite guest on other stars’ variety shows. Besides a non-stop concert touring schedule, Jim Nabors also starred in the Saturday morning, Sid & Marty Kroft series “The Lost Saucer” alongside comedian Ruth Buzzi. Besides television, Nabors’ film career included several movies with box office superstar Burt Reynolds including, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas“, “Stroker Ace” and “Cannonball Run II“.
One of Jim Nabors most lasting legacies was his singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” with the Purdue All-American Marching Band to signal the start of the Indianapolis 500. He performed the pre-race tradition for over 30 years, up until 2014 when his health caused him to announce his retirement.
Jim Nabors had a career where he found success in every area, in television, music and film. Add that to living in his beloved Hawaii for over 40 years with his partner and then-husband Stan Cadwallader of nearly 40 years, plus living to the age of 87 and it all equals a pretty good life. Shazam!
— George Pennacchio (@abc7george) November 30, 2017