Actor Jim Nabors, known as 'Gomer Pyle,' dies

(RNN) - Performer Jim Nabors, perhaps known best from his portrayal of the hayseed character Gomer Pyle from The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle, USMC, has died, WBRC reported.

Born June 12, 1930, Nabors hailed from Sylacauga, AL, where he sang in high school and church. He later acted in skits at his alma mater, The University of Alabama. Post-graduation, Nabors was a typist for the United Nations in New York City, then became a film cutter in Chattanooga, TN. After moving to Los Angeles in hopes that the climate would help his chronic asthma, he worked as a film cutter at NBC.

By night, he sang and acted in cabaret theater, where his act included a countrified character similar to Gomer Pyle. His first TV role was on "The Steve Allen Show," which was canceled shortly after Nabors signed on. 

Andy Griffith caught Nabors' act and hired him to play Gomer Pyle, an "addle-brained" gas station attendant intended to appear in just one episode of the third season of "The Andy Griffith Show" in 1962. The character became so popular that Nabors became a series regular. 

The character resonated with TV audiences so well that in 1964 the series "Gomer Pyle: USMC" premiered and ran six seasons. In the show, Pyle was a bumbling Marine always at odds with his tough sergeant. Nabors also appeared in every season premier of "The Carol Burnett Show," as Burnett came to see him as a good luck charm. 

Nabors sometimes broke into song while playing Pyle, contrasting the character's nasal, high-pitched voice to Nabors' own rich baritone singing voice. He released albums of romantic ballads, pop and country songs and gospel hymns, widening his fan base. 

After leaving Gomer Pyle, Nabors hosted the short-lived variety show "The Jim Nabors Hour." 

In 2012, Nabors underwent heart surgery; it was not his first major medical procedure. He battled illness for years before undergoing liver transplant surgery in 1994.

He came out publicly as gay in his 80s after marrying his partner of 38 years, Stan Cadwallader, who was 18 years his junior. They met in 1975 when Cadwallader was a firefighter in Honolulu, and they wed in 2012.

The two were married in a private ceremony in a hotel in Seattle. Gay marriage was legal in Washington at the time, but not in Hawaii.

Nabors said he spoke freely about his relationship with close associates and coworkers, and he was very open about his sexuality while working in Hollywood. However, he chose not to speak about it to the media.

"I haven't ever made a public spectacle of it. Well, I've known since I was a child, so, come on," Nabors said. "It's not that kind of a thing. I've never made a huge secret of it at all."

Nabors had been a permanent resident of Hawaii since 1976, where he tended to a farm that produced macadamia nuts and flowers.

He said he first fell in love with the islands when he traveled there in the 1960s.

"I just walked off that plane and knew this is where I wanted to be," Nabors said. "It was the air and the friendship and the friendliness and the people, you know. I just knew, there's something inside me that told me 'Hey, you're gonna end up here.' I love this place. I love everything about it."

Nabors sang "Back Home Again in Indiana" to kick off the Indiana 500 for 36 years. This is his final, emotional performance in 2014.

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