Jim Nabors and Frank Sutton in "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Jim Nabors, who epitomized the image of a friendly country boy, has died at age 87 at his home in Hawaii. Nabors was plucked from obscurity when Andy Griffith caught his nightclub act in L.A. in the early 1960s and cast him in the role of Gomer Pyle, the affable but simple-minded filling station attendant in "The Andy Griffith Show". The program was always among the top shows in the ratings and Nabors' exposure on the show gained him instant fame. The character of Gomer became as iconic as Griffith's Sheriff Andy Taylor and Don Knotts' deputy Barney Fife. Nabors' popularity extended into a second career as a pop singer. When he first sang on an episode of "The Andy Griffith Show", many viewers thought his operatic baritone voice was dubbed. However, they soon learned that Nabors had a magnificent singing voice. His career as a singer saw him perform for decades to sold-out audiences in top venues around the world. His albums went gold and platinum. Nabors starred in one of first television spin-offs with "Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C". The show was another major hit produced by Andy Griffith. In the series, which ran from 1964-1969, Nabors continued to play an inept but honest and lovable character who took pride in being a Marine. The United States Marine Corps agreed to extend cooperation to the series because of the positive light Nabors cast on the corps. Nabors found the perfect foil in Frank Sutton's Sgt. Vince Carter, his long-suffering superior who bore the brunt of Pyle's penchant for causing problems. The two men would be reunited years later as co-stars on Nabors' TV variety hour. Nabors also dabbled occasionally in feature films, co-starring with his friend Burt Reynolds in "Stroker Ace", "Cannonball Run II" and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas".
Don Knotts, Andy Griffith and Jim Nabors.
In real life Nabors was gay and had been with his partner of 38 years, Stan Cadwallader, at the time of his death. The two had married in 2013. Nabors always looked back fondly on "The Andy Griffith Show" and the people associated with it. He remained loyal and grateful to Griffith for elevating his career. In 1986 Nabors returned once more to the role of Gomer Pyle for the TV movie "Return to Mayberry", which reunited him with most of the living cast members. The telecast proved to be a ratings blockbuster.