Who Was Jim Nabors?
Actor and singer Jim Nabors was born in Sylacauga, Alabama, in 1930. Plagued by poor health, which prevented him from playing sports in school, Nabors took to the stage. Nabors gained national recognition playing the lovable gas attendant, Gomer Pyle, first on The Andy Griffith Show, and later on the CBS spinoff Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. A versatile performer, Nabors recorded more than 30 albums. He died on November 30, 2017, at age 87.
The youngest of three children, James Thurston Nabors was born on June 12, 1930, in Sylacauga, Alabama. His childhood was framed by a rural Alabama life, much of which he later drew from to create his signature character, Gomer Pyle.
The Nabors family never had much money, and as a child young, Nabors suffered from severe asthma. Prevented from playing school sports on account of his respiratory issues, Nabors turned to performance arts. He joined the glee club in high school as well as the choir, and took to the clarinet.
At the University of Alabama, where he earned a degree in business administration, Nabors continued to perform. It was there that he first started acting, his debut performance coming via a Greek skit show as a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
Despite Nabors's fondness of the stage, he had trouble seeing much of a future in it for himself. "I was from a small town and, God knows, I was no leading man," he once said. "You know how Hollywood was back then—everybody was a 'hero.' The only thing I could possibly think of was I could have been a character actor in a Western or something. I never had any thoughts of going into the business."
After college, Nabors moved to New York City, where he found work as a typist for the United Nations. After migrating south for a short spell, he landed in California and took a job as an apprentice film cutter for NBC.
At night, Nabors continued to perform, devoting the hours toward winning over audiences with his hillbilly characters and singing. His work soon caught the attention of comic Bill Dana, who landed Nabors an audition on The Steve Allen Show. Nabors appeared on the program several times.
Not long after, Nabors came on the radar screen of another high-profile TV performer, Andy Griffith. After catching Nabors's act at a Los Angeles club, Griffith asked him to audition for a new role on The Andy Griffith Show.
Incorporating his own hillbilly character sketches into the part, Nabors nailed the role of Gomer Pyle, a lovable but clumsy gas attendant whose signature phrases, "gawwwlee" and "shazzayam," helped rocket him to fame.
In 1964, after two seasons on the program, CBS made Pyle the center of a spinoff sitcom, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
Following the show's cancelation in 1969, Nabors continued to find steady work. He hosted his own variety show on CBS for three seasons, and, for several years, was a staple Las Vegas performer. His work on the big screen has included several projects with friend Burt Reynolds, including roles in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), Stroker Ace (1983) and Cannonball II (1984).
In addition to acting, Nabors has been a busy singer. As of 2013, he had more than 30 records to his name.
Personal Life and Death
In the late 1970s, Nabors made Hawaii his permanent home. For a time, he even stepped away from the stage completely and concentrated his time on managing his 500-acre Maui ranch and his more than 20,000 macadamia trees.
In January 2013, Nabors made headlines when he announced, at the age of 82, that he was gay and had married his longtime partner, Stan Cadwallader, in Seattle.
"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," Nabors said. "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."
Nabors died at his home in Honolulu, Hawaii, on November 30, 2017, at the age of 87. Cadwallader confirmed the death to the Associated Press, noting that his husband had been in failing health for a year, with his immune system diminished by a liver transplant some 20 years earlier.
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