Nabors in a publicity still (detail) for Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., 1968
|Born||James Thurston Nabors
June 12, 1930
Sylacauga, Alabama, U.S.
|Died||November 30, 2017
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
|Alma mater||University of Alabama|
|Known for||Portraying Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.|
|Spouse(s)||Stan Cadwallader (m. 2013)|
James Thurston Nabors (June 12, 1930 – November 30, 2017) was an American actor, singer, and comedian.
He was born and raised in Sylacauga, Alabama, but he moved to southern California because of his asthma. He was discovered by Andy Griffith while working at a Santa Monica nightclub, and he later joined The Andy Griffith Show as Gomer Pyle. The character proved popular, and Nabors was given his own spin-off show Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C..
Nabors was known for his portrayal of Gomer Pyle, although he became a popular guest on variety shows which showcased his rich baritone singing voice in the 1960s and 1970s, including two specials of his own in 1969 and 1974. He subsequently recorded numerous albums and singles, most of them containing romantic ballads.
Nabors was also known for singing "Back Home Again in Indiana" prior to the start of the Indianapolis 500, held annually over the Memorial Day weekend. He sang the unofficial Indiana anthem almost every year from 1972 to 2014, except for occasional absences due to illness or scheduling conflicts.
Early life and career
Nabors was born James Thurston Nabors in Sylacauga, Alabama on June 12, 1930 to Fred Nabors, a police officer, and Mavis Pearl (Newman). He sang for his high school and church, and he had two sisters. He attended the University of Alabama, where he began acting in skits. While at Alabama, he became a member of Delta Tau Delta International Fraternity. After graduating, he moved to New York City, where he worked as a typist for the United Nations; after a year, he moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he got his first job in the television industry as a film cutter.
Because of his asthma, Nabors moved to Los Angeles and worked as a film cutter for NBC. He also worked at a Santa Monica tavern, The Horn, singing and acting in cabaret theater. His act featured him as a character similar to the Gomer Pyle character he later portrayed. He sang in a baritone and sometimes spoke and sang in his higher-pitched comedic voice. At the club, comedian Bill Dana saw Nabors' act and invited him to appear on The Steve Allen Show. Nabors signed on to the show, but it was soon canceled.
Breakthrough and popularity
It was at The Horn where Nabors was discovered by Andy Griffith and was hired to play a one-shot role of Gomer Pyle, an "addlebrained" gas station attendant, on The Andy Griffith Show (Season 3, episode 13 - "The Bank Job"). Nabors' character (based on his act at The Horn) became so popular that he was made a regular on the show and was later given his own show, the spin-off Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., in which his character joined the United States Marine Corps. The show, which placed Nabors' bungling, naive character opposite Sergeant Vince Carter (Frank Sutton), was also popular.
Despite its run during the Vietnam War, Gomer Pyle remained popular, because it avoided war-related themes and instead focused on the show's rural roots and the relationship between Pyle and Carter. Nabors resigned from Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. after five seasons—prompting producers Aaron Ruben and Sheldon Leonard to ask CBS to cancel it—because he desired to move to something else, "reach for another rung on the ladder, either up or down."
Nabors revealed his rich baritone voice first on the February 24, 1964, "The Song Festers" episode of The Andy Griffith Show and on April 8, 1964, on The Danny Kaye Show, and subsequently capitalized on it with numerous successful recordings and live performances. Most of the songs were romantic ballads, though he sang pop, gospel, and country songs as well.
The climactic vocal performance on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. came in an episode titled "The Show Must Go On," aired November 3, 1967, in which Pyle sang "The Impossible Dream (The Quest)" in Washington, D.C., at a U.S. Navy relief show, accompanied by the Marine Corps Band. A clip from the show, in which Pyle says the tag-line "Surprise, surprise, surprise!" appears in the Pink Floyd album The Wall in the song "Nobody Home". He hosted a variety show, The Jim Nabors Hour (1969–1971), which featured his Gomer Pyle co-stars Ronnie Schell and Frank Sutton. Despite a poor critical reception, the show was popular and earned an Emmy nomination. After the cancellation of The Jim Nabors Hour, Nabors embarked on a nationwide roadshow.
Nabors sang the national anthem before Game #1 of the 1973 World Series in Oakland.
Typecast from his role as Gomer Pyle, Nabors found his subsequent roles mostly comedic. In the 1970s, he appeared in the children's television programs The Krofft Supershow and Buford and the Galloping Ghost. He appeared in every season premiere of The Carol Burnett Show, because Burnett considered him a "good-luck charm".
In a 1973 episode of The Rookies, he played his first "serious" role, a man called on to be an assassin after the death of his sister. Also in 1973, Nabors sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" before Game One of the Major League Baseball World Series. From 1977 to 1978, Nabors hosted another variety show, The Jim Nabors Show. Though the show lasted only one season, Nabors was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Talk, Service or Variety Series.
Nabors eventually grew tired of the "prime-time TV grind" and abandoned television jobs for nightclub and concert engagements and a role in a touring production of Man of La Mancha. However, Sid and Marty Krofft persuaded Nabors to star in the Saturday-morning children's television show The Lost Saucer, about two bumbling androids, Fi (Ruth Buzzi) and Fum (Nabors), who travel through time with two children. Nabors, whose character was described as a "Gomer Pyle in outer space", sang in a few of the episodes. Nabors also guest starred on episode 6 of season 1 of The Muppet Show.
In the 1980s, Nabors appeared in three feature-length films starring his friend Burt Reynolds, at the latter's request. In The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), about a sheriff (Reynolds) who falls in love with a brothel madam (Dolly Parton), Nabors played Deputy Fred, a character similar to Gomer Pyle. Though the film was given mostly unfavorable reviews, Nabors garnered some positive comments for his performance.
In 1983, he was cast as an auto mechanic in Stroker Ace, starring Burt Reynolds as a race car driver who fights a fried-chicken chain entrepreneur. The film was panned, and Nabors earned a Golden Raspberry Award for his performance. In Reynolds' star-studded Cannonball Run II (1984), about a cross-country car chase, Nabors made a cameo appearance alongside such celebrities as Dom DeLuise, Jackie Chan, Shirley MacLaine, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Andy Griffith Show co-stars Don Knotts and George Lindsey. Like the two previous Reynolds films Nabors appeared in, Cannonball received mostly negative reviews.
In 1986, Nabors returned to television, reprising his role as Gomer Pyle in the television movie Return to Mayberry, in which the cast of The Andy Griffith Show reunited. Also in 1986, Nabors starred in the half-hour comedy pilot Sylvan in Paradise as the title character, Sylvan Sprayberry, an accident-prone bell captain at a Hawaiian hotel. The series was not picked up by NBC.
After moving to Hawaii from Bel Air, California with his partner Stan Cadwallader in 1976, he launched a show, "The Jim Nabors Polynesian Extravaganza" at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, which ran for two years. Nabors eventually experienced "bright-light burnout" and disappeared from the stage, save for an occasional performance. In 1984, after a five-year hiatus, Nabors returned to performing, starring in the "Moulin Rouge" show at the Las Vegas Hilton and other shows in Reno and Las Vegas. In 1982,he made his theatrical debut as Harold Hill in The Music Man with Florence Henderson at the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre in Jupiter, Florida.
In 1994, Nabors suffered from a near-fatal case of hepatitis B. According to Nabors, he contracted the disease while traveling in India; he shaved with a straight razor and "whacked [his] face all up." The disease caused liver failure, and Nabors was given a dim prognosis; however, his friend Carol Burnett made an arrangement with the transplant division of University of California, Los Angeles and secured Nabors a transplant. Nabors later became involved with the American Liver Foundation as a result of his experience.
Shortly after recovering from his transplant, Nabors embarked on another tour, with stops in Phoenix, St. Louis, and Washington. From 1997 to 2006, Nabors starred in the Burton White-produced A Merry Christmas with Friends and Nabors, a live performance at the Hawaii Theatre Center in Honolulu. The production, featuring local and national artists, ran for 40 performances and was directed by Tom Hansen until Hansen's death in 2006. The final performance run was directed by John Rampage and dedicated to Hansen.
From 1972 to 2014, Nabors sang "Back Home Again in Indiana" with the Purdue All-American Marching Band before each Indianapolis 500 race. In March 2014, Nabors announced that the 2014 Indianapolis 500 would be his final appearance, saying that his health was limiting his ability to travel. After his retirement from this role, the singing of "Back Home Again in Indiana" is now done on a rotating basis (as had been the case before Jim became the regular singer).
Nabors began vacationing in Hawaii in the 1960s, and in 1976, moved from Bel Air, California, to Honolulu, Hawaii. For 25 years, he owned a macadamia plantation on Maui before selling it to the National Tropical Botanical Garden, a conservationist organization, though he still retained farming rights to the land and owned a second home on the property.
Nabors married his partner of 38 years, Stan Cadwallader, at Seattle, Washington's Fairmont Olympic Hotel on January 15, 2013, a month after same-sex marriage became legal in Washington. Although he had been closeted before this, his sexual orientation was not completely secret; for instance, Nabors brought his then-boyfriend Cadwallader along to his Indy 500 performance in 1978.
Allegations about Rock Hudson
Not only was same-sex marriage not yet legal in any U.S. state at the time, at least publicly, the two were never more than friends. According to Hudson, the story originated with a group of "middle-aged homosexuals who live in Huntington Beach", who sent out joke invitations for their annual get-together. One year, the group invited its members to witness "the marriage of Rock Hudson and Jim Nabors", at which Hudson would take the surname of Nabors' most famous character, Gomer Pyle, becoming "Rock Pyle". The rumor was spread by those who failed to get the joke, and because Nabors was still closeted at the time and Hudson never publicly admitted to being gay (despite widespread suspicion that he was), the two never spoke to each other again.
The United States Marine Corps released a statement on Nabors: "Semper Fi, Gomer Pyle. Rest in peace Jim Nabors, one of the few to ever be named an Honorary Marine." Second Lady of the United States and former First Lady of Indiana Karen Pence wrote a statement on Twitter: "So sad to hear about the passing of Jim Nabors. We heard him sing 'Back Home Again in Indiana' at the Indianapolis 500 countless times. We will miss his beautiful voice."
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Carol Burnett paid tribute to Nabors saying they were "close friends for 52 years. ... My heart is heavy. I’m grateful he was a large part of my life. I miss him. I love him." INDYCAR legend Tony Kanaan praised Nabors's performance of "Back Home Again in Indiana". Journalist Larry King praised Nabors as a "gentle man with immense talent" while sending condolences to his family.
Accolades and honors
Nabors' successes have earned him accolades.
- He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991.
- "Gomer Pyle" received an honorary promotion to Lance Corporal from the Commandant of the Marine Corps James L. Jones in 2001, and on September 25, 2007, he was promoted from Lance Corporal to Corporal by Lt. General John F. Goodman.
- The Hawaii Pacific University awarded Nabors the Fellow of the Pacific Award for his "outstanding leadership, service, and dedication to the community".
- He was inducted into the Alabama Stage and Screen Hall of Fame in 2006.
- He received honors from the University of Alabama on September 2, 2006, before a football game against the University of Hawaii.
- Nabors, along with U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, was honored on January 19, 2007, at "A Night of American Heroes", a yearly dinner held in benefit of the Battleship Missouri Memorial at Pearl Harbor.
- In October 1978, the state of Alabama named a section of U.S. Route 280 in Talladega County, Alabama, "Jim Nabors Highway" in honor of the Sylacauga native.
- Jim Nabors was made an honorary Sergeant during the 238th Marine Corps birthday ball celebration on November 15, 2013, by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos.
- Jim Nabors Sings Love Me With All Your Heart (released 1966, certified gold 1968)
- Jim Nabors Sings the Lord's Prayer (released 1968, certified gold 1974)
- Jim Nabors Christmas Album (released 1966, certified gold 1970)
|1963||Take Her, She's Mine||Clancy, Sleeping Pill Coffee Shop Manager||Uncredited|
|1982||The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas||Deputy Fred|
|1983||Stroker Ace||Lugs Harvey||Won: Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor|
|1984||Cannonball Run II||Pvt. Homer Lyle|
|1961||The Steve Allen Show||Himself|
|1963||I'm Dickens, He's Fenster||Episode: "The Carpenters Four"|
|1963||Mr. Smith Goes to Washington||Claude||2 episodes|
|1963||The Danny Kaye Show||Himself||2 episodes|
|1962–1964||The Andy Griffith Show ||Gomer Pyle||23 episodes|
|1964–1969||Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.||Gomer Pyle||150 episodes|
|1966||The Lucy Show||Pvt. Gomer Pyle||Episode: "Lucy Gets Caught Up in the Draft"|
|1967||The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour||Himself||Episode #1.1|
|1968||The Dean Martin Show||Himself||Episode: "1968 Christmas Show"|
|1969||The Don Rickles Show||Himself||Episode #1.16|
|1969||The Leslie Uggams Show||Himself||Episode #1.5|
|1969–1971||The Jim Nabors Hour||Host/Various character||51 episodes|
|1967–1977||The Carol Burnett Show||Himself||9 episodes (the premiere episode of each season)|
|1971||The Johnny Cash Show||Himself||Episode #2.19|
|1972–1973||The Flip Wilson Show||Himself||2 episodes|
|1973||The Rookies||Corley Curlew||Episode: "Down Home Boy"|
|1973–1974||The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour||Himself/Various characters||4 episodes|
|1976||The Lost Saucer||Fum||16 episodes|
|1976||The Muppet Show||Himself/Billy Lee Boomer/Bakery Guard||Episode #1.6|
|1976–1977||The Sonny & Cher Show||Himself/Various characters||6 episodes|
|1977–1981||The Love Boat||Wayne Bouton, the valet||3 episodes|
|1978||The Jim Nabors Show ||Host||Nominated for a Daytime Emmy (for Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Talk, Service or Variety Series)|
|1981||Aloha Paradise||Episode: "Alex and Annie/Blue Honeymoon/Another Thing"|
|1983||Knight Rider||Passerby||Episode: "Soul Survivor"|
|1986||Return to Mayberry||Gomer Pyle||Television movie|
|1986||Sylvan in Paradise||Sylvan Sprayberry||Television movie|
|1991||Hi Honey, I'm Home!||Gomer Pyle||Episode: "Hi Mom, I'm Not Home"|
|1991||The Carol Burnett Show||Skit characters||Unknown episodes|
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