Gay actor and singer Jim Nabors, best known for portraying goofy but lovable country boy Gomer Pyle in two TV sitcoms, has died at age 87.
Nabors, who had been in poor health for several years, died Thursday morning at his home in Hawaii, his husband, Stan Cadwallader, told the Associated Press.
“Everybody knows he was a wonderful man. And that’s all we can say about him. He’s going to be dearly missed,” Cadwallader said.
Nabors first played the Pyle character in 1962, in the third season of The Andy Griffith Show on CBS. He was a gas station attendant in the small town of Mayberry, N.C., where Andy Taylor (Griffith) was sheriff. Nabors was originally signed for only one episode, notes The Hollywood Reporter, but his character proved so popular that he ended up appearing in 23 episodes. Pyle was marked by wide-eyed innocence, homespun humor, and exclamations such as “Golle-e-e!” and “Shazam!”
In the Griffith show’s fourth-season finale, Gomer announced he had enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, leading to the spin-off series Gomer Pyle, USMC. Gomer was transported to a Marine base in Southern California, where he often ran afoul of temperamental Sgt. Vince Carter, played by Frank Sutton. The series was a hit and ran from 1964 to 1969.
The opening credits of the series showed Pyle marching with real Marines, and when syndicated reruns of the show aired after its original run, Nabors said he found the opening hard to watch because many of the Marines had been killed in Vietnam, according to the Reporter. “The Pollyanna sitcom never addressed the war,” the publication notes.
Nabors surprised those accustomed to Gomer’s twangy speaking voice by demonstrating a stunning baritone singing voice. He sang at times on Gomer Pyle, USMC, and on several TV variety shows. He was usually Carol Burnett’s first guest of the season on her show, and he had his own variety series from 1969 to 1971, followed by another series in 1978. He also sang at nightclubs and recorded albums. He also sang “Back Home Again in Indiana” before the annual Indianapolis 500 race for many years, the last time in 2014.
He made a few film appearances, acting with friend Burt Reynolds in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Stroker Ace, and Cannonball Run II.
Nabors’s friends in show business knew he was gay, but the actor never said anything publicly until he married Cadwallader, a former Honolulu firefighter, in Seattle in January 2013. Same-sex marriage had become legal in Washington State the previous month. The two men had been together since 1975 and had homes in Honolulu and Maui.
“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,” Nabors told Hawaii News Now at the time of the wedding. “And at my age, it’s probably the best thing to do. I'm 82 and he’s in his 60s, and so we’ve been together for 38 years and I’m not ashamed of people knowing; it’s just that it was such a personal thing, I didn’t tell anybody. I’m very happy that I’ve had a partner of 38 years and I feel very blessed. And what can I tell you? I’m just very happy.”