Jim Nabors, who created one of TV’s beloved comedic characters, Gomer Pyle, died Thursday in Hawaii at the age of 87, his personal assistant Charisse Gines confirmed for USA TODAY.
Nabors, who was at his height of popularity in the late 60s and early 70s, reigned as Bacchus in New Orleans in 1971.
The entertainer, who underwent a liver transplant in 1994 after contracting hepatitis B, died peacefully at his home after his health had declined for the past year, 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," said Cadwallader, who married Nabors in early 2013 in Washington state.
The Alabama native had a long career that featured TV and movie roles, more than two dozen albums and numerous concert appearances, including long-running shows in Las Vegas and Hawaii, the latter of which became his home in the 1970s. He bought a 500-acre macadamia ranch there. He received a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991.
Nabors was best known for his role as the sweet, gentle Marine in the title role of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., a CBS comedy that was a top-five hit during its five-season run in the 1960s. Gomer’s dust-ups with his hard-nosed superior, Sgt. Carter (Frank Sutton), were the heart of the show and the character’s trademark exclamations — “Well, Golllll-ly!” and “Shazam!”— became familiar to millions.
The University of Alabama graduate moved to Los Angeles as a young man, taking a job as a film cutter at NBC. In his spare time, he acted and sang at a Santa Monica cabaret theater, The Horn. Andy Griffith saw him there and later offered him the the chance to audition for the role of Pyle, the innocent gas station attendant on The Andy Griffith Show. The character’s popularity led to the later spinoff.
After Pyle ended, Nabors hosted his own variety show, The Jim Nabors Hour, which ran for two seasons. He also was a guest on other variety hours, including The Carol Burnett Show and The Sonny and Cher Show.
On the big screen, Nabors had roles in three films starring his friend, Burt Reynolds: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Stroker Ace and Cannonball Run II.
On the music side, Nabors launched a successful career with his distinctive baritone. The public got a taste of it when he sang on Andy Griffith. Over the years, he released 28 albums and had five gold records and one platinum record.
He also lent his voice to the Indianapolis 500, making his rendition of Back Home Again in Indiana a staple of the annual race since 1972. He sang the song for the last time at the Indy 500 in 2014.