Entertainer Jim Nabors, the longtime Hawaii resident who is best known for his TV role as Gomer Pyle, has died.
Nabors, who had been in declining health for the past couple of years, died at 2:20 a.m. today at his Diamond Head home, according to his husband Stan Cadwallader. He was 87.
In 1963, the Alabama native became widely known for his TV character Gomer Pyle in the “The Andy Griffith Show.” The following year, he starred in his own spin-off sitcom, “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”
>> For Nabors, Hawaii was home
“He’s a wonderful guy. He’s a wonderful man,” Cadwallader said this morning.
Nabors and Cadwallader who met in the mid-1970s married in Seattle in 2013. He recalled how Nabors said he wanted to be like Gomer, “to be that good.”
“And he was,” Cadwallader added.
Nabors was admitted to the emergency room at Queen’s Medical Center on Nov. 22 due to the shingles. He returned home for Thanksgiving where he and Cadwallader celebrated the holiday with about 30 guests.
Nabors returned to the hospital where he underwent a series of tests Wednesday. Cadwallader said all Nabors asked his doctors was to return home. “That’s what his wishes were,” Cadwallader said.
In a Facebook post, former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano described Nabors as a dear friend. “Humble, down to earth despite world wide fame, he loved Hawaii and its people and I believed he was loved by all who knew him or of him.”
“Jim was one of a kind. We will miss him,” said Cayetano.
Nabors moved to Hawaii full-time in 1978, buying a 500-acre macadamia ranch, after he sold his home in Bel-Air, Calif.
Born in Sylacauga, Ala. in 1930, Nabors moved to Los Angeles in 1954, three years after he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Alabama.While in Los Angeles he became involved in the entertainment industry and created a character similar to Gomer Pyle.
In a February 2013 Honolulu Star-Advertiser story, Nabors said, “I was doing (a Gomer-type) character in a nightclub, but when I read for Andy’s show, which was totally out of the blue, I’d never acted. When they gave me the part, it scared the heck out of me … Andy said there’s nothing to it, but it is a very hard job.”
Nabors became an instant success when he joined “The Andy Griffith Show” as the character Gomer Pyle, the unworldly, lovable gas station attendant who would exclaim “Gollllll-ly!”
In the “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” spinoff, which lasted five seasons, Gomer left his hometown of Mayberry to become a Marine recruit. His innocence confounded his sergeant, played by actor Frank Sutton.
Audiences saw another side of Nabors in appearances in TV variety programs — his booming baritone.
For two seasons beginning in 1969, CBS presented the variety show “The Jim Nabors Hour.” After the end of his variety show, Nabors continued earning high salaries in Las Vegas showrooms and in concert theaters across the country.
He still did occasional TV work, and in the late 1970s, he appeared 10 months annually at Hilton hotels in Hawaii. The pace gave him an ulcer. “I was completely burned out,” he later recalled. “I’d had it with the bright lights.”
In the early 1980s, his longtime friendship with actor Burt Reynolds led to roles in “Stroker Ace,” ”Cannonball II” and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
Among his regular gigs was singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” at the Indianapolis 500 each year, which he first did in 1972. The first time, he wrote the lyrics on his hand so he wouldn’t forget.
“I’ve never thought of (the audience reaction) as relating to me,” Nabors said. “It’s always relating to the song and to the race. It is applauding for the tradition of the race and the excitement.”
Illness forced him to cancel his appearance in 2007, the first one he had missed in more than 20 years. He was back performing at Indy in 2008, saying, “It’s always the main part of my year. It just thrills you to your bones.”
In 1991, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His reaction? “Gollll-ly!”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.